Educational Research: The Challenge of Using an Academic Discipline
by Clifford Hill - 2012
Background/Context: In 2010, I was invited to give the annual lecture that honors Lawrence Cremin, the historian of American education who became the seventh president of Teachers College, Columbia University. To pay tribute to the way in which Cremin used an academic discipline to bring rigor and depth to educational research, I described my own use of an academic discipline—linguistics and its varied tools of discourse analysis—in conducting research at the College.
Focus of Research: I focused on two major areas of research: (a) ethnocultural variation in processing spatio-temporal information in languages throughout the world and (b) children’s interaction with multiple-choice tests of reading comprehension, with particular attention to the ways in which their ethnocultural background affects how they respond.
Research Design and Findings: The first area of research used experimental methods developed by a research team that I directed. The major finding was that distinctive patterns of processing spatiotemporal information by speakers of African languages (e.g., Hausa) and Asian languages (e.g., Chinese) are preserved when African Americans and Chinese Americans speak English in the Western hemisphere. In addition to ethnocultural identity, our research team uncovered other factors such as age and gender that are reflected in the preservation of these patterns. I draw on the model structured heterogeneity (Herzog, Weinrich, & Labov, 1968) to show that what may appear to be random variation in language use can be accounted for by attending to sociocultural factors.
The second area of research used quantitative methods (experimental probes) and qualitative methods (interviews). Our major finding was that children, especially African Americans who live in the inner city, often make inferences when responding to a multiple-choice task, which, although stimulated by features in the test item, lead them to select a choice, which, given the test makers’ highly restricted model of literacy, cannot be justified. Our research team drew on the model ethnography of communication (Hymes, 1962) in identifying the contrasting interpretive norms used by test makers and test takers. We then developed a model grounded constructivism (Hill, 2004) that was used to build an alternative approach to assessment in which children respond to an integrated set of tasks that call for three different kinds of response: factual, inferential, and experiential.
Recommendations: An academic discipline can provide greater depth and rigor in educational research, but those who draw on one must seek, much like Lawrence Cremin, to make their research intelligible to an informed public concerned with educational policy.
We can have facts without thinking,
but we cannot have thinking without facts.
I would like to welcome friends, former students, and colleagues here at Teachers College and from various institutions around metropolitan New York and beyond. The Hausa people in West Africa have a saying, Zumunta a kafa ta ke (Friendship is in the foot). They use these words to express a fundamental value in their culture: if they are to keep friendship alive, they have to get up and go to where their friends are. Im grateful for every friends foot that has made it here today.
It is a special honor to give a lecture that celebrates Lawrence A. Cremin. Shortly after my arrival at Teachers College, he became president, and those of us who were new faculty members were in awe of this man who was able to conduct a hands-on presidency while continuing to teach his popular course on the history of American education and publish widely as a historian of education. I remember the excitement at the College when we learned that he had received a Pulitzer Prize for American Education: The National Experience, 17831876, the second volume in his three-volume history of American education (1970, 1980, 1988).
Those of us who were new faculty members were inspiredand to be honest, a bit intimidatedby his scholarly example. One of the distinguishing features of Teachers College is its range of specialized programs based on particular academic disciplines: to name just a few, history, philosophy, psychology, sociology, anthropology, and, in my case, linguistics. Such specialization is a great strength of the College, but it also presents a challenge, as indicated by the title of this lecture. How can these disciplines be brought to bear on important issues in education and how can their intellectual rigor be maintained when communicating with a wider audience?
Here Larry Cremin is an exemplary model. As a historian, he did not settle for doing research in some small corner, though he explored plenty of corners as he was preparing to take on the whole of American education. In his three-volume History of American Education, he wrote about the evolution of public education in a lucid and elegant style that was compelling to professional historians and the lay public. He did not take short cuts in his research: his published work was characterized by copious notes, but they were relegated to the bottom of the page or to the back of the article or book. He did not allow them to clog the flow of his masterful narrative.
Im sure I speak for many faculty and students who have come to the College with a commitment to an academic discipline, but an uncertain grasp on how this discipline might be used in educational research. In my own case, this lack of certainty was exacerbated, as I ended up at the College by accident. I came to Columbia on soft money to direct a program in African languages at the School of International and Public Affairs. An unexpected budget cut by the Nixon administration forced me to search for additional work, and somewhat serendipitously, I ended up filling in for a faculty member at Teachers College who was on leave. This temporary position soon became permanent, and I was faced with the challenge of working out just what kind of research I could do at a graduate school of education.
My dissertation research seemed far removed from the various research agendas that I encountered at Teachers College. It was a rather technical analysis of the language used in a particular oral tradition among the Hausa people in Niger, a French-speaking country located just to the north of Nigeria on the edge of the Sahara desert. I collected more than 6,000 examples of what the Hausa people call karin magana, which translates roughly as folded speech. A good example of such speech is the one I used at the beginning of the lecture. Using linguistics as a tool, I attempted to identify the ways in which the language used in this tradition differs from ordinary speech.
In responding to the challenge presented by Teachers College, I soon discovered the provocative thinking of John Dewey, who had been a faculty member not only at Teachers College but also in the Department of Philosophy within the larger university. This dual affiliation, no doubt, contributed to the breadth of his thinking about education, and such affiliation is still an important means of sustaining the academic disciplines at the College.
During his presidency, Larry Cremin drew heavily on Dewey in developing a distinctive approach to education for the College. For Cremin, education had to do with all societal institutions, beginning with the family, that transmit knowledge and values from one generation to the next. As I absorbed this way of thinking about education, I began to see my doctoral research in a new light. In rural communities that lack writing, oral tradition is the backbone of education. Traditional societies around the world have used oral traditionsong, story, proverbto transmit knowledge and values to the next generation. Even today, this means of educating is more vital than the literacy practices of the Western school in many rural communities in Niger.1
I also began to think differently about the distinctive features of language that I had analyzed in my dissertation research: for example, the abundant parallelism used in karin magana makes this way of speaking memorable, which is crucial to its preservation in oral culture. Appropriately cued memory is the key to exacting reproduction of the language that transmits cultural knowledge and values.
RESEARCH ON LANGUAGE, SPACE, AND TIME
As I continued to teach Hausa at the Institute of African Studies, I experimented with teaching methods that I was learning about at Teachers College. One of these experiments took a surprising turn while I was using the silent way to teach the Hausa terms used to describe spatial relations. Silently, I was manipulating objects such as a pen and a piece of paper to encourage students to use the Hausa spatial terms that identify relations between objects on the three primary axes.
a kan on
a k'ark'ashin under
a gaba in front
a baya in back, behind
a hagu to the left
a dama to the right
In addition to the American students in the class, there were two West African students: a native speaker of Ashanti from Ghana who had been exposed to Hausa as a child, and an Igbo speaker from southern Nigeria who was concerned about interethnic relations in Nigeria (this was at the time of the Biafran War).
As the students used the Hausa terms for front/back, I noticed that the West African students and the American students were interpreting these terms differently. The American students described a nearer object as gaba da in front of a further one. As shown in Figure 1, they constructed a familiar field in which the orientational dynamic was running toward themselves. The West African students, however, described the pen as baya da behind/in back of the ball. They constructed a field in which the orientational dynamic was running away from themselves (see Figure 2).2
Ga birona baya da k'wallon.
Thats my pen in front of the ball.
Ga birona baya da k'wallon.
Thats my pen in back of the ball.
Both constructions can be described as deictic: this term comes from the Greek word for pointing and refers to any language use that reflects the language users immediate point of view. To characterize these contrasting constructions, I introduced the terms mirror imagery and in-tandem imagery in order to capture the active ways in which we construct imagesalthough they remain largely out of awarenessas we make sense out of language.
Clearly, what transpired in the Hausa classroom merited further investigation, so I began to contact various speakers of West African languages in nearby Harlem. I discovered that the deictic imagery used by the Ashanti and Igbo students was, in fact, dominant among these speakers. As I continued to explore this imagery, I became aware that it is at work in time as well as in space. In describing relations between days of the week, for example, Hausa speakers use in-tandem imagery:
Ran Talata tana gaba da Ran Littinin.
Tuesday comes before Monday.
As can be seen, the presence of the word before in a literal translation leads to a nonsensical proposition that highlights the contrasting use of deictic imagery. The use of after in a functional translation is based on the mirror imagery that native speakers of Standard English are accustomed to:
Ran Talata tana gaba da Ran Littinin.
Tuesday comes after Monday.
It is worth noting that the terms for front/back also represent before/after in many languages around the world. This is especially the case in Bantu languages widely spoken on the African continent. In Kikuyu, for example, mbere signals both front and before, thutha both back and after.
When the structure of languages first evolved, human beings apparently viewed relations between two temporal points much like relations between two objects. Again, we can observe the active role of imaging in language use. It is as if time was viewed as running through the human body out toward the horizon. As writing was developed, however, human beings began to shift their perspective and view time as running along other spatial axes that are privileged on the page. In Asian languages that use a vertically oriented script, the terms for up/down can be used to describe certain temporal relations. Speakers of Chinese, for example, characterize last month as 上 “up” and the next month as 下 “down”:
上个月 shàngge yue “last month”
下个月 xiage yue “next month”
It is as if time is viewed as running from the top of a page to the bottom, which is, of course, an image often exploited in a graphic representation of historical events along a vertical time line (in any cultural tradition, a book page is generally characterized by greater height than width). The relations between space and time can be quite complex, a subject I have explored in greater depth across a number of languages (Hill, 1978, 1991b, 1993, 1994, 1998).
Upon the completion of the academic year, I headed for West Africa to direct a Peace Corps program in Francophone Niger, which gave me the opportunity to explore these constructions more extensively. To help prospective teachers gain experience, we recruited nearly 350 students and set up a summer school in which they could do practice teaching. At the end of each school day, I carried out experimental tasks in the students first language, whether Hausa or Djerma.3
I was exhilarated to discover that in-tandem imagery was dominant for Hausa-speaking and Djerma-speaking students, although nearly a third of the students adapted to the communicative norms of a Western school and used mirror imagery. This was especially the case with girls: nearly half of them used mirror imagery. This result is not altogether surprising when one considers that within a Muslim society girls do not end up in a French-speaking school unless they come from a family that reflects a strong Western orientation.
After this initial study, a doctoral student, Tijjani Ismail, conducted research among Hausa speakers in a secondary school in English-speaking Nigeria.4 He designed a bilingual study in which written tasks were administered to 180 randomly selected boys and girls in forms 1, 3, and 5 (the equivalent of grades 7, 9, and 11 in the American system). Half of the students responded to the tasks in Hausa, and the other half responded in English, as shown in Table 1.
Tijjani administered an array of four tasks built around different objects that lack any intrinsically marked orientation. The task shown in Figure 3, utilizing a rock and a ball, closely simulates the oral one I had administered in Niger. As was the case with Hausa-speaking students in Niger, nearly two-thirds of these Nigerian students used in-tandem imagery when responding in Hausa. When responding in English, however, only about one-third of the students used in-tandem imagery, thus showing a remarkable capacity to adapt to native-speaker norms. (Later, Tijjani set up a control group of 180 students in Scarsdale, an affluent suburb north of New York City, and they made almost exclusive use of mirror imagery.)
The ball is ______ the rock.
B. in front of
D. to the left of
Tijjani also explored how these students responded when the reference objectfor example, a telephonereflects a fundamental asymmetry that can be viewed as marking an intrinsic front/back. He developed three tasks using objects in which the intrinsically marked orientation is increasingly salient. The first involved a telephone, a static entity; the second involved a car, an entity that has a capacity for motion but cannot itself initiate movement; and the third involved a person, an entity that can initiate movement. In each task, the reference object was facing to the side so that there was a conflict between the deictic orientation (i.e., based on the language users point of view) and the nondeictic orientation (i.e., based on the intrinsic orientation of the reference object).
The task in which the reference object is a telephone is shown in Figure 4. If students choose to the right of, they can be considered as making a deictic response. If they, however, choose in front of, they can be considered as making a nondeictic response.
Nearly three-quarters of the students responding in Hausa made a nondeictic choice. When responding in English, slightly less than half of the students made a nondeictic response, thus, once again, showing a capacity to adapt to native-speaker norms (less than one-quarter of the students in Scarsdale made a nondeictic choice).5 Not surprisingly, a nondeictic response became progressively stronger on the tasks in which the reference object was first a car and then a person.
The ball is ______ the telephone.
A. to the right of
D. in front of
Tijjanis research uncovered a correlation that has held up in later research conducted in different parts of the world: students who use in-tandem imagery are more likely to make a nondeictic choice when they respond to a task in which the reference object has intrinsic orientation. From a cognitive perspective, these students can be viewed as using imagery in which they are projected into the field. If the reference point has intrinsically marked orientation, they project to where it is; if it does not, then they project their own orientation on to it: it is as if their front becomes its front, their back its back. I introduced the term dynamic to describe such responses and the term static to describe the use of mirror imagery in which the reference object is viewed as oriented back toward the language user.
After Tijjani defended his dissertation, he and I visited a secondary school in Harlem where he presented his research. He began by asking the students to respond to a task designed to elicit either in-tandem imagery or mirror imagery. After a lively discussion with the students, we rushed back to the College to analyze how they had responded to this task. We discovered that the majority had used in-tandem imagery, and immediately I began to plan a large-scale research project to be conducted in metropolitan New York secondary schools that would explore ethnocultural differences in the use of deictic imagery.6
METROPOLITAN NEW YORK
I was fortunate that a doctoral student named Sheila McKenna took on this large-scale project. To parallel Tijjanis research, she administered tasks to 445 students at the equivalent grade levels, as shown in Table 2.7
Sheila made a major contribution to our research methodology by developing a card game that allowed her to infer whether students were using in-tandem imagery or mirror imagery. In effect, students attention was shifted from making a language choice to trying to win a game.
The results of this large-scale project were striking. As shown in Figure 5, African American students and European American students differed significantly in using in-tandem imagery. And for both groups, the use of in-tandem imagery was slightly stronger when the game was played orally. Not surprisingly, literacy itself tamps down the use of such imagery.
The European American students in this study differed significantly from the European American students in Tijjanis study. Here only about two-thirds of these students used mirror imagery, whereas in Scarsdale virtually every student used mirror imagery, suggesting that we needed to approach deictic imagery in a more complex way.8
If we add grade level (see Figure 6), we are able to observe an especially revealing contrast between African American and European American students in their use of in-tandem imagery: the African American students use such imagery significantly less as they remain in school, whereas the European American students show virtually no change. The decreasing use of in-tandem imagery among African American students is, no doubt, related to their high dropout rate: those students who are dropping out are presumably less acculturated to mainstream norms of communication. But the decrease also reflects that African American students who remain in school, no doubt, increasingly adapt to mainstream norms. Indeed, the use of deictic imagery can serve as a sensitive index to whether students are adapting to these norms.
Adding gender as well as grade level allows us to observe a maximal contrast in the use of in-tandem imagery.9 As shown in Figure 7, nearly all African American boys in the seventh grade used in-tandem imagery, while nearly all European American boys in the 11th grade used mirror imagery.
Having established a cultural continuity between West Africans and African Americans, the research expanded to other parts of the world, thanks to the many international students who carried out course projects or dissertation research in their first languages. As the research spread geographically, I became increasingly aware that the dynamic processing initially evidenced in West Africa is, in fact, dominant in many parts of the world.
CHINA AND THE CHINESE DIASPORA
In 1991, I began to travel to the Peoples Republic of China and, working with Chinese doctoral students there, was able to explore the use of deictic imagery. What was especially intriguing about research conducted by a doctoral student Wei Yong with 180 students at Hangzhou University is the degree to which various aspects of their identity could be used to predict the use of deictic imagery. As shown in Figure 8, in-tandem imagery was used almost exclusively by male students who came from a rural area and whose academic major was Chinese when they responded to tasks in Chinese.
By way of contrast, the use of in-tandem imagery was significantly diminished when female students who came from an urban area and whose academic major was English responded in English. As Herzog, Weinreich, and Labov (1968) have pointed out, variation is fundamental to language use, but it is not random. They introduced the term structured heterogeneity to describe the way in which variation in language use reflects dynamic processes, in this case those associated with Westernization, that are at work in the larger society.
Jianguo Ji conducted research among 345 Chinese immigrants in Chinatown, where he discovered a dominant use of in-tandem imagery and thus established a cultural continuity that parallels the one running from West Africa to metropolitan New York. Once again, the use of in-tandem imagery could be predicted by various aspects of individual identity: gender, the amount of education, how long the immigrants had been in this country, and the language they used to respond to a task. Moreover, Jianguo was able to show what had initially been established in Tijjanis research in Nigeria, namely, that a significant majorityin this instance, nearly three-fifthsof the students who made a nondeictic response used in-tandem imagery. In effect, these Chinese students, much like the Hausa students, can be viewed as making a more dynamic response.
As the research expanded to include Chinese speakers, further tasks were introduced: for example, a task in which students were asked to cut a small round cake into four pieces. Over three-quarters of the students who made a more dynamic response (choosing both nondeictic and in-tandem) made the first cut across the cake rather than toward their own body.10
This preference for a horizontal cut can be viewed as reflecting the primacy of the horizontal over the vertical in Chinese (“front/back” is readily assimilated to “up/down” by Chinese speakers), as reflected in the syntactic ordering of terms such as 东北 dōng běi “ east north” and 右上 yòu shàng “right upper,” which contrasts with the syntactic ordering of parallel terms in English: northeast and upper right. This preference for the horizontal is also evidenced in the order in which strokes are made in forming a Chinese character. Since calligraphy is a fine art, manuals have been prepared to specify the order of strokes: a horizontal stroke should be made before a vertical one.11
As the research expanded, a number of new areas were explored: for example, we became interested in the effects of literacy on how individuals imagine a time line: is it envisioned as running along a vertical axis or a horizontal one? We discovered that individuals from Taiwan who use traditional Chinese script are more prone to imagine a vertical time line, whereas individuals from mainland China are more prone to imagine a horizontal time line, since they use a simplified script that runs from left to right. And Hausa students who attend Western schools are more prone to imagine a time line running from left to right, whereas those who attend Quranic schools are more prone to imagine a time line running from right to left.
These results do not reflect the grand claims about literacy that scholars such as Walter Ong (1982) have made: that it was, for example, critical in the emergence of democracy or the development of scientific thinking. The results do, however, indicate that literacy has at least modest effects on restructuring human thought. The time line no longer runs along the front-back axis, as it did when the structure of human language was first evolving; rather it can shift to the axis along which the primary experience of literacy takes place.
Im going to have to cut short the story of the deixis research, even though theres much more to tell. I would like, however, to address a question that is often voiced in an incredulous tone: Just how can deictic imagery be culturally transmitted across many generations in the absence of a stable language? This is an intriguing subject that requires more time than we have, but I would like to make a couple of points. First, as the research expanded, doctoral students and I discovered that in-tandem imagery was dominant for speakers of languages in many parts of the worldAfrica, the Middle East, Asiaand that the dominance of mirror imagery is best viewed as developing relatively late in Europehere the very term mirror imagery is suggestive since it was during the European Renaissance that the mirror came to be widely usedand spreading to wherever European peoples have moved over the past few centuries.
Moreover, our research established that speakers of all languages have access to both in-tandem imagery and mirror imagery, moving back and forth between them according to subtle factors in the communicative situation: for example, if the further object is obscured, speakers of any language view the field as closed and hence draw on mirror imagery. In addition, if such speakers are in motionor if there is motion in the field they are describingthey are likely to make use of in-tandem imagery.
But perhaps most important of all are sociopolitical factors. The racial separation practiced by earlier generations is still present in American society, and a significant proportion of the African American population is still not integrated into mainstream society. It is among adolescents in the inner city that we have documented a dominant use of in-tandem imagery. It is important to bear in mind that deictic imagery is a bodily transmitted marker of ethnocultural identity that operates largely out of awareness and is thus readily preserved (see Hill, 1998, for further discussion of the role of what I call embodied memory in transmitting deictic imagery).
The long-term stability of deictic imagery raises a further question: how can it be reconciled with its short-term flexibility, as evidenced in Hausa students shifting from in-tandem imagery to mirror-imagery when they are speaking English? In addressing this question, I would like to briefly mention a small-scale project conducted by Bill Mooney and Lynne Goldstein (1983), who asked an African American high school student to use Black English when administering an oral task to his peers. As students interacted with a peer, nearly two-thirds of them used in-tandem imagery. However, when Bill, as an adult White teacher, administered the same task, less than half of the students used such imagery. In effect, these African American students shifted deictic imagery as they moved from one dialect to another, much as the Hausa students shifted such imagery as they moved from one language to another. As we have seen, the variation that is fundamental to language use is sensitive to sociocultural factors in the communicative setting (see Hill, 1998, for a more extended discussion of the factors that are involved in long-term preservation and short-term shifting of deictic imagery).
TESTING AND ASSESSMENT
As I conducted research seminars in the Applied Linguistics Program at Teachers College, I increasingly turned my attention to a fundamental issue in American education: how children from different ethnocultural backgrounds interact with standardized tests of reading comprehension. Here I would like to acknowledge the support of Ed Gordon, who was then director of the Institute of Urban and Minority Education. Among Eds many talents is bringing people together from different institutions to work on a common problem. Ed was interested in exploring more deeply the performance of culturally diverse students on standardized tests and asked whether I would head up a research team to be jointly based at Teachers College and the Educational Testing Service. Working with the Institute, I developed a research proposal that received federal funding and assembled a team of doctoral students to carry out the research.
Our research team worked with a corpus of test items that had been piloted for the Gates-MacGinitie Reading Tests. We used data from three major cities that compared the responses of African American children and European American children. Although we were uncomfortable with using simple ethnocultural labels to identify children, we used the categoriesAfrican American and European Americanthat the test makers had set up during the initial pilot testing. We used these data to construct a reading test composed of 22 itemsthe number used on an actual testthat we administered to third-grade children in inner-city schools in metropolitan New York.
Our research was based on a model known as the ethnography of communication, which was developed by an anthropologist Dell Hymes (1968) whose specialty was linguistics. Based on his approach, we viewed reading tests as involving communication between two parties (test makers and test takers), and hence we were interested in understanding how this communication took place. Central to this task was uncovering the culturally constituted interpretive norms that each party brings to a reading test. We were able to make inferences about the test makers norms by analyzing the tasks they built, but we also visited the great test factories of America to conduct interviews with them. By the same token, we were able to make inferences about the test takers interpretive norms from their responses to the tasks, but we also conducted interviews to discover more about why individual children made the particular choices they did.
These individual interviews brought to our attention childrens ways of responding that we had not anticipated. Hence, we developed what we called experimental probes to be administered to a larger group of children to explore how widespread certain ways of responding might be. We used two kinds of probes: (a) knowledge probes that explored what children knew about a potentially important feature of a test item and (b) performance probes that explored how children respond when a potentially important feature of a test item is changed (see Hill & Larsen, 2000, for a more detailed presentation of research methodology).
Before we examine test items in which deixis played an important role, let us first consider an item that was especially useful in shedding light on the different ways in which the African American and European American children responded to the reading test that we administered:
The fawn looked at Alice with its large, gentle eyes. It didnt seem at all frightened. Here then! Here then, Alice said, as she held out her hand and tried to stroke it. It moved back a little and stood looking at her again.
A. How did the fawns eyes look?
B. What did Alice try to do to the fawn?
Perhaps the most noticeable aspect of the two tasks is that they call for a trivial response to a passage that has been lifted with only slight modifications from an imaginative piece of writing, Lewis Carrolls Through the Looking Glass. Task (A) calls for children to recycle from the passage the word gentle. Task (B) calls for children to define the word stroke by providing the synonym pet. More generally, each of these target responses forces children to abandon the ongoing communicative process that takes place as they read and turn their attention to a tangential activity. To characterize tasks like these that interrupt the onward flow of communication, we came up with the general term acommunicative, and we went on to identify correct answers like those above as acommunicative target responses.
As is often the case, each of these tasks also contains a choice that seemingly sustains the communicative process that the test passage has initiatedin effect, a communicative distractor. Since this passage has been excerpted from a larger text, it is incomplete and thus encourages children to use details from the passage to make inferences that provide a larger frame for this brief encounter between Alice and the fawn. In the case of Task (A), the distractor frightened can activate what we call a motivated inference, since this inference can be directly justified by passage details. There is the sentence It didnt seem at all frightened, which might be taken to mean that the fawn was, in fact, frightened. And then there is the fact that the fawn moved back a little when Alice tried to stroke it. In the case of Task (B), the distractor help it can activate what we call an invited inference, since it is only loosely associated with passage information. Alice is described as speaking gently to the fawn and trying to stroke it.
The pilot testing results show that the European American children are more attracted to the acommunicative target response, whereas the African American children are more attracted to the communicative distractor (see Table 3).
We were curious whether childrens knowledge of the word fawn affected their performance on Task (A), so we administered a knowledge probe to 120 children that investigated ethnocultural differences in not only urban schools but also suburban ones:
Do you know what a fawn is?
(1) a baby duck
(2) a small nest
(3) a baby deer
(4) a mythical animal
In establishing choices for this knowledge probe, we were motivated by what children said during the interviews. One thought the fawn was a mythical animalpresumably the child had in mind the word spelled as f-a-u-n. Other children described it as a forest animal, an elephant, a squirrel of some kind, something like a goose, like a duck. The child who compared the fawn to a duck went on to talk about how Alice stroked the fawns feathers.
The ethnocultural differences in choosing baby deer were significantly diminished in the suburban setting, as shown in Table 4.
But whether children knew the meaning of the word fawn did not predict whether they were able to choose the target response for the tasks. In fact, for Task (A) such knowledge correlated more strongly with their choice of the communicative distractor frightened. This is not altogether surprising, since children who know what a fawn is are more likely to view it as skittish and backing off when someone tries to pet it. Indeed, I discovered that for several of our test items what children knew often worked against their selecting the target response. This is one reason, among others, that I am skeptical about reducing the achievement gap simply by introducing content that is more familiar to children who come from culturally diverse backgrounds.
When we interviewed African American children who attend inner-city schools, we discovered that a number of them focused on the same textual detail in justifying their choice of frightened. One girl said, The fawn must have been frightened because when she tried to stroke it, she moved back.
A boy provided a more expansive explanation that took account of the fact that the task is focused on the fawns eyes: Because it say in the story when she tried to stroke it, he moved back and looked at her. His eyes, I think, were wide open so it must be frightened.12
This boys attention to the eyes is presumably motivated by the fact that Task (A) is focused not on the fawn, but rather the fawns eyes. When we interviewed the test makers, they pointed out that children must read the task carefully in order to choose the word (i.e., gentle) that describes the fawns eyes rather than the fawn itself. But as one child pointed out, we would look at the fawns eyes if we wanted to know whether it is frightened. The Hausa people are fond of making much the same point with a karin magana: Labarin zuciya a tambayi fuska (For news of the heart, one must ask the face).
Certain African American children went well beyond textual information in justifying their choice of frightened. As one boy put it, Because it kind of ran away. Animals run away usually when they are scared. Maybe it thought that she was gonna throw a stone and thats why it moved back. His expansive commentary does conclude with the crucial textual detail that the fawn moved back.
On Task (B), these textual expansions were very much in evidence when certain African American children explained their choice of the communicative distractor help it. Their expansions often presented the fawn as hurt, as evidenced by the following explanation: A fawn got hurt and the girl is trying to help it. The fawn kind of ran away, got scared. We can see that, once again, the fawn is presented as running away.
A hurt fawn also appeared in a story that one African American girl told when she was asked to retell what she had just read (her use of Once upon a time signals that she viewed this task not as calling for a brief summary but rather a story of her own):
Once upon a time, Alice was walking through the forest and she saw a fawn. It was beautiful, and she saw how gentle it was looking at her. So she went over there and talked to it and tried to pet it. Then the fawn jerked back. She was wondering why did the fawn jerk back. So she went over there to get her friend. Her friends came. They all surrounded the fawn, and then suddenly she got to it. And then she realized that the fawn had a broken leg.
Notice this girls skill at dramatizing the events in the passage. When she introduces the word gentle, it is not to describe the fawns eyes but rather its way of looking: she saw how gentle it was looking at her (here, too, we can detect evidence of moving from the static to the dynamic). And then she introduces jerked back to dramatize the fawns moving back when Alice approaches.13
In closing the discussion of this test item, I would like to present what an African American child wrote after he had been interviewed about his responses to certain test items. Following our protocol, the interviewer ended with a coaching component in which he provided the child a list of target responses and brief explanations of why they were considered correct choices. This child was an imaginative reader and had been attracted by a number of communicative distractors. He was visibly upset when he discovered that these choices were considered wrong. He asked the interviewer if he could write down a story of his own. The following is what he wrote:
I was walking in the woods when suddenly I saw something move in the bushes. I went to see what it was and it was a deer it looked at me and it was a sad look. I looked back and saw it was caught in a trap. I jiggled the trap but it wouldnt open, so I took a rock and smashed it. It opened and the deer was free, it looked at me again and then it ran away.
This story has a special poignancy. It is remarkable how this boy drew on the passage about Alice and the fawn to compose a story that symbolizes the way in which he felt trapped by the reading test.
DEIXIS AND READING TESTS
As we conducted the research on reading tests, we discovered that the deixis research provided a useful perspective not only on structural features of the test items but also on certain confusions that children experienced. Before we proceed, I would like to call attention to a basic feature of a deictic utterance: typically, there is no indication that it is based on the language users immediate point of view. This omission is not surprising, since generally the language user can assume that a listener shares that point of view and any specification would thus be redundant. Linguists often use the symbol Ø to indicate that the deictic point of view has not been specified (such a Ø can be described as iconic in that it refers to what is absent in language precisely because it is available in the communicative setting itself).
As illustrated in the presentation of the deictic research, this lack of specification can lead to conflicting interpretations. Let me give a couple of examples. First, a spatial example: Theres a tree across the road can have a deictic interpretation in which the speaker is located on the opposite side of the road and signals by the use of across that (s)he must cross the road in order to get to where the tree is located. This same sentence has a nondeictic interpretation if the speaker is describing a tree that has fallen across the road. In this case, the relation between the tree and the road is the same, no matter where the speaker happens to be standing.
And here is a temporal example: I can finish the job in an hour has a deictic interpretation if the listener assumes the speaker is expressing that (s)he will be able to complete the job in an hour from now. But in the nondeictic interpretation the listener makes no assumption about when the job will be completed: (s)he simply assumes that it will take the speaker one hour to do the job. In effect, the interpretive focus is on how long rather than when.
In presenting the following test item, I have inserted the symbol Ø to indicate that the little girl continuously assumes from now in whatever she says or thinks.14
She looked at the calendar. Only two more days Ø and I can go to school. In three days Ø I can read.
Mama chuckled. Not quite that soon, dear.
How many days Ø?
Some children learn to read in a few months. Some learn in about a year.
A year Ø? A whole year Ø? Not till she was seven? That would be awful.
How old is the girl in the story?
At first, how long did the little girl think it would take her to learn to read at school?
a few months
It is striking that the Ø is distributed throughout the little girls speech and thought, but it is altogether absent in her mothers responses. This distribution of Ø signals sharply contrasting approaches to time that can be described with our familiar terms deictic and nondeictic. The little girls view is limited to her own immediate point of view and thus leads to a distorted understanding of what will happen at school. In responding to her child, the mother is attempting to lead her child toward a broader perspective on time that is not distorted by the urgency of now.
To select the target response for each task, children have to make sense of the little girls speech and thought in which deictic Ø continuously occurs. For Task (A), they have to know that the little girl is talking about a year from now when she will be 7 years old. Once they have figured this out, all they have to do is subtract 1 from 7 to arrive at the target response six.
For Task (B), they have to understand that the little girl is counting forward from the present as she speaks to herself: she is thinking that 2 days from now she will go to school and hence in 3 days from nowher first day at schoolshe will enter a magical world in which suddenly she will be able to read. Once children are able to integrate all that the little girl is thinking, they simply subtract 2 from 3 and arrive at the target response one day.15
When we asked children to retell what they had read, they had difficulty in making sense out of the passage. Even though the passage deals with a familiar subject (the excitement of a child about her first day of school), its structural features are not readily accessible. Apart from the ubiquitous presence of deictic Ø, the passage also includes free indirect speech (from the French style indirect libre) in the final paragraph to represent what the little girl is thinking. In a literary text, this style is often used to represent what a character is thinking and is thus marked by syntactic fragmentation: A year? A whole year? Not till she was seven? Such fragmentation is especially apt for conveying the texture of the language we think in. Our thinking moves toward a state of pure predication, one in which words that convey the already known are continuously suppressed (Hill & Larsen, 2000, p. 109).
We discovered during our interviewing that the use of this sophisticated literary device was confusing to children: for example, many did not understand that she actually referred to the little girl, as illustrated by this exchange between an interviewer and an African American girl (I stands for interviewer and C for child):16
I Who do you think she referred to?
C I think it was the writer probably.
I Is there any way you can tell?
C Because it said she and not I.
Certain children were annoyed when they discovered what the target responses were for the two tasks. As one boy put it, This is supposed to be a reading test, not a math test. He does have a point, since children reading this passage without the tasks are not likely to make these calculations. We conducted a performance probe in which the passage without the tasks was presented for 25 seconds to 34 children (evenly divided between African American and European American). Once the passage was removed, children were presented the two tasks, and none were able to provide a correct answer to Task (B). Four children, two in each group, did manage to come up with six in response to Task (A).
The pilot test results show that Task (A) was easier than Task (B) for children, presumably because they could use real-world knowledge in selecting six. It is noteworthy that more European American children (40%) made this selection than African American children (26%). During the interviewing, we discovered a possible explanation for this difference. European American children tended to associate starting school with the first grade. As one boy put it in justifying his choice of six, That means that she is goingliketo first grade; and if someones got to go to first grade, they got to be six.
The African American children, however, tended to think that children start school at an earlier age. Here is what a girl said when the interviewer asked her why she had chosen four: Cause at four years old you go to school. A Haitian American child who had participated in a prekindergarten program in Haiti before moving to this country made a startling observation: She is four years old in Haiti. But in New York she is five years old.17
We included what this boy said in a research report prepared for the test makers. One of our recommendations in this report is that they should not construct multiple-choice tasks in which the target response can be chosen based on of real-world knowledge. This task dramatically illustrates that such knowledge can vary across ethnocultural groups.18
As for Task (B), the pilot test results show that it is especially difficult for all children, as shown in Table 5.
Given childrens difficulties with this test item, it is not surprising that neither group managed to perform at the level of chance in selecting the target response one day. The distractor three days attracted a large number of children in both groups, and as can be seen, nearly half of the European American students selected it.19
In making this choice, children seem to be making a nondeictic interpretation of three days (i.e., responding to the question of how long rather than when). But it is highly doubtful that this is what they are doing. Given childrens difficulties in understanding the passage, they may just be latching on to a salient passage detail. As soon as they spot three days as a choice for Task (B), they can just fill in the bubble and move on without any further thought.
It is, of course, possible that certain children who had a better understanding of the passage were attracted to this choice because they assumed it was an acommunicative target response. As we observed in our discussion of the test item about Alice and the fawn, European American children were especially attracted to this kind of choice. In setting up three days as a distractor, test makers may well have ended up luring savvy test takers into a trap, and hence, a more principled response cannot be distinguished from a response made by children who were confused by the passage. A major problem with the multiple-choice format is that we cannot know why an individual child filled in a particular bubble.
The deixis research was centrally concerned with polarities such as front/back and up/down, and so it provided a useful framework for investigating test items in which various kinds of polarities play a prominent role. In constructing our corpus from the pilot test data, we included five items in which polarities found in the passage make their way into the tasks. I would like for us to examine an item, the shortest in our corpus, in which all four choices for Task (B) are based on various permutations of two polarities: warm/cool and wet/dry.
Raisins are made from sweet varieties of grapes. The ripe fruit is usually placed on trays right in the vineyard. There, the fruit dries in the sun. Drying may take several weeks.
Raisins are made from grapes that have a lot of
What kind of climate is best for making raisins?
warm and dry
warm and wet
cool and dry
cool and wet
The target response in Task (B) is warm and dry, based on the textual detail that in making raisins, the grapes are placed on trays so that they can dry in the sun.
This kind of multiple-choice task is widely used on reading tests, presumably because test makers find it relatively easy to build a set of four choices around polarities. As we conducted our research, we became increasingly aware that tasks that force children to manipulate polarities often engender a confusion that they would not experience when reading an ordinary text in which polarities are not overworked and are embedded in a naturally occurring context. In Children and Reading Tests (Hill & Larsen, 2000, p. 140), we introduced the term paradigmatic vertigo to describe these induced confusions.20
The deixis research had made us aware of the culturally variant ways in which African American children handle polarities, and so we were especially attentive to their performance on polarity items. During the interviewing, we noticed the childrens tendency to make what we described as a polarizing inference. Consider, for example, how one boy justified his choice of the distractor warm and wet in Task (B):
Look, first I didnt understand so much so I picked warm and dry because of this [points to dries in the text]. But then when I read it more, I thinkuhmwarm and wet, cause here it says, There, it dries in the sun. Drying may take several weeks. Weeks. I think weeks are very long so I dont think dry is very good.
It is disconcerting to observe this boy rejecting his initial choice of the target response warm and dry as he comes up with the polarizing inference. If I were coaching this child, I would be tempted to tell him not to think too much when taking a reading test.
Just as the extended drying was used to justify the choice of warm and wet in Task (B), so it was used to justify the choice of water in Task (A). As one girl put it with great confidence, It has to be water because of all that drying in the sun. Another girl read out loud the final sentence in the passage to justify her choice of water. It was water, because here it says, Drying may take several weeks. These girls, like the boy described in the previous paragraph, adopt a dynamic stance toward textual information, which clearly runs counter to the static orientation that testing calls for. This stance leads them to project from one lexical pole to its opposite.
In presenting the deixis research, I pointed out that such dynamic projection is prominent among African American students. They are more prone to interpret polar terms nondeictically (i.e., they project to the intrinsically marked orientation of the reference point); and even when they interpret these terms deictically, they make greater use of in-tandem imagery (i.e., they project their own orientation onto the external reference point). I suspect that many African American children are prone to respond dynamically not only to polar terms but also to text as a whole.
Certainly, children from any ethnocultural background can have difficulty in adapting to the static processing that reading tests call for, since it runs counter to what they do when they are first learning to read. As they encounter imaginative stories, they often create worlds that go far beyond what is on the page. However, when taking a test, they must learn a circumscribed way of reading in which the world they create is more closely constrained by what is on the page.
During our interviewing, we found that European American children generally were more aware of the restricted way of reading that a test calls for. Once I asked a boy who had breezed through our corpus of test items without a single wrong answer to explain why he had chosen light on task (A) in the following polarity item.
Near the top of most pencils, there is a symbol, usually a letter or a number. It tells you whether the pencil is soft or hard. If you want your writing to be thick and dark, you select a pencil with soft lead.
You choose a hard lead to make lines that are
The letters or numbers near the tops of pencils are
His explanation for selecting light models perfectly what children are expected to do when they are confronted with polarities on a multiple-choice task: Because it says, If you want your writing to be thick and dark, you select a pencil with a soft lead, and this is hard lead so its got to be the opposite.
I then asked him to explain why hard lead makes a light line, hoping that he might say something like Because the lead is hard, less of it rubs off. Rather, he curtly replied, The story didnt talk about that. As a savvy test taker, he knew not to waste his time thinking about why hard lead makes a light line. Such an approach, however, can be limiting if it is carried over to the other reading that children do. For reading to become an effective tool for building knowledge, children must learn to probe beyond the surface of a text: for example, when they come across a text that states a causal relation but doesnt explore the question of why (i.e., stating that a pencil with soft lead makes lines that are thick and dark, but then providing no explanation).21
Unfortunately, the more restricted approach to text that a reading test calls for spreads into the classroom through the use of test prep materials. One of the most powerful criticisms of reading tests is the way in which they distort the curriculum, especially when they are used to determine whether children will be promoted or whether individual teachers, or even an entire school, will be placed on probation. Instead of children pursuing a broadly based language arts curriculum, they often spend a good deal of class time working with test prep material that focuses on the approach to reading required for successful performance on standardized tests.
Even those who support the use of these tests tend to agree that the way in which test prep takes over the classroom is unfortunate. What they generally do not recognize is that test prep material is not as carefully vetted as test material itself. In an op-ed piece in the New York Times (Hill, 2000c), I described how test prep material widely used in New York City schools was poorly constructed. One sample passage, for example, provided misleading information about the origins of testing in ancient China. An ancient scholarly practice was presented as based on purely materialistic motives: to win a job and lots of money for life. This erroneous information was further reflected in the sample tasks: for example, one of the tasks called for children to identify which of the following statements were probably true.22 The children were then provided reasons for accepting or rejecting each of the four choices. They were instructed to reject the choice Few people took the tests for the following reason:
When someone passed the test, he received lots of money. It is reasonable to think that many people took the tests.
In fact, many years of study were required to prepare for the test and relatively few people were thus ever in a position to take it. In reviewing this test prep material, I was disturbed not only by the careless way in which it was put together, but also by its tendency to misrepresent other cultures in order to make them seem more familiar.
To conclude this discussion of reading tests, I should point out that our research was part of a larger movement in which the criticism of these tests led to certain reforms, such as the use of more complete passages that are placed in a larger context (they are often accompanied by a picture). These reforms are evidenced in the reading component that was developed for the New York State Test of Language Arts. In research that I conducted on this component (Hill, 2004b), I discovered that the retention of the multiple-choice format still leads to the kinds of problems that I have been describing. Although this format can be useful in certain kinds of testing, its effects can be pernicious when it is used to assess reading comprehension.23
A BROADER MODEL OF ASSESSMENT
After conducting research on reading tests, I felt that I had learned enough to try my hand at building assessment tasks that would evaluate childrens reading comprehension more fairly, and so initiated a research project in which I worked with a team of teachers in early childhood education to develop a model of alternative assessment. We called this model the Progress Profile, since we used it to monitor childrens progress as they moved from kindergarten through third grade.
The team was led by doctoral students in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching who, as experienced supervisors in a major school district, encouraged teachers in early childhood education to adopt the model. I insisted that our model replace standardized testing, since I did not want the two methods of assessing children to be in conflict with each other. As the Hausa people like to say, Kada a bi sarki biyu (One cannot be loyal to two leaders). At that time, New York state law did not require the use of standardized tests if a school district could demonstrate that it had developed a reliable system of assessing children in reading and mathematics.
In assessing reading, we introduced a broader model of comprehension, based on Blooms classical work (1984), which included three kinds of tasks: (a) factual, what is written down in the story; (b) inferential, what you can figure out, although it is not written down; and (c) experiential, how the story connects to stories you already know.
We used the term grounded constructivism to describe our approach, since it was designed to teach children to be attentive to textual detail when making inferences. In working with teachers, we developed classroom material based on a dialogic model (Bakhtin, 1981; Vygotsky, 1962) that encourages children to approach reading as if they were engaged in a conversation with someone who should be carefully listened to. Within such an approach, children learn that this kind of listening means paying close attention to what is on the page.
This dialogic model is amplified by the inclusion of the experiential task. This task helps to convey to children that they can draw on their own experience in making sense out of what they read, much as they do when they are engaged in a conversation. However, we encouraged teachers to make clear to children that this kind of task is different from the other two tasks that call for a more circumscribed kind of reading. We also encouraged teachers to make clear that a factual task is even more circumscribed than an inferential one. In designing the Progress Profile, our goal was to minimize the confusion that children experience when responding to a standardized test: for example, their uncertainty about whether a task calls for a factual response or an inferential one.
To illustrate how our model worked, I would like to present a Hausa story that we used to assess childrens reading comprehension. When I first heard this story, I was delighted to find such an ingenious explanation of Why the Tortoise Has a Cracked Shell, since to my ear the explanation passed down through European tradition had become quite stale:
A tortoise and his wife had been married for many years but still had no children. They were so unhappy that the tortoise decided to visit a doctor to get some special medicine.
When he arrived at the doctors, he said, I need medicine to help my wife make a baby.
The doctor replied, Here is medicine to help her make a baby. But be carefulthis medicine is strong. Dont drink any of it.
The tortoise began the journey home. The sun was hot, and he became thirsty. He decided to drink a little of the medicine. When he tasted it, he said to himself, This is good. Ill drink a little more.
So he drank a little more and again said to himself, This is very good. Ill drink a lot more.
So he drank a lot more and again said to himself, This is very very good. Ill drink all the medicine.
When the tortoise arrived home, his wife asked him, Did the doctor give you medicine to help me make a baby?
The tortoise answered, No, he didnt give me any medicine. The wife was surprised but didnt say anything.
As time passed, the tortoises stomach began to grow. At first it grew a little. Then it grew a lot. Finally his shell began to crack, and a baby tortoise was born. When the tortoises wife saw the baby, she said, That medicine was very strong.
This is why even today the tortoise has a cracked shell.
Let us now examine the three kinds of tasks that children responded to after reading the story.
(1) Why did the tortoise visit the doctor?
(2) Why did the tortoise drink the medicine?
(1) Why did the tortoise lie to his wife? Please explain your answer.
(2) Do you think the wife believed him? Please explain your answer.
Tell a story about someone who told a lie and then got caught. If you like, you can draw pictures to help tell your story.
If we examine the inferential tasks more closely, we can see that they require children to make what we call motivated inferences (in effect, inferences that can be directly justified by textual details). For the first task, children can combine two textual facts to justify the inference they can make in answering this question: He didnt want her to know that he drank the medicine.
(1) He got the medicine and drank it himself.
(2) He told his wife that he didnt get the medicine.
In making this inference, children can also draw on knowledge about how humans interact: namely, that we dont want people to know if we lie to them.
For the second task, children can again combine two textual details to justify the inference that provides an answer to the question: Nobecause she didnt say what she really thought.
(1) He told his wife that he didnt get the medicine.
(2) She is surprised but doesnt say anything.
Once again, children can also draw on knowledge about how humans interact: namely, that we dont always say what we think. This inference is strengthened by the wifes ironic comment when she sees the baby tortoise that has come out of her husbands body: That was powerful medicine.
Since classroom teachers were the ones who administered the assessment tasks, they developed considerable skill in observing closely what individual children do. They were also responsible for developing individual profiles that were passed on to teachers at the next grade level. One of the major benefits of our assessment model is that it facilitated greater communication among teachers as children moved through their early years of schooling.
The Progress Profile worked well until the Bush administration introduced the No Child Left Behind policy that required the use of standardized testing. Given the high stakes attached to this testing, teachers felt a responsibility to get children ready for the tests. Hence, our assessment model that depended upon heavy teacher involvement could not be sustained as test prep increasingly took over classroom time.
Just one quick note on current educational policyit appears that the annual use of standardized testing from Grade 3 through Grade 8 is being retained by the Obama administration. For someone who spent a good deal of time and money supporting Barack Obama (it is much easier to be politically involved when one is retired), this is disappointing news, given his eloquent criticism during the election campaign of the negative effects of standardized testing on what goes on in the classroom.
But to be fair, the Obama administration is broadening the ways in which children, teachers, and schools will be evaluated, and I suspect that the political compromises we have seen in passing health care reform must also play out in educational reform. I continue to admire Obamas political skills as he moves our country, albeit slowly, toward greater equity in not only health care but also education.
Since I have retired from Teachers College, I have been able to return more fully to the world where I began my academic journeyoral culture in Africa. In a project that I am working on with a former doctoral student, Lori Langer de Ramirez, we use African stories from all over the continent to teach African American children about their cultural heritage.24 We focus on why stories, which in traditional African culture provided imaginative explanations to children about what they observe in the natural world, and hence these stories can be viewed as developing in children two habits of mindcareful observation and imaginative thinkingthat provide two important ingredients in scientific inquiry.
These stories are often light and humorous when they provide an explanation for certain oddities in naturefor example, the cracked shell of a tortoiseas illustrated by the Hausa story that we have just considered. But these stories can also take on the large mysteries that children confront at an early age. Consider, for example, a Xhosa story Why Death Is in the World from South Africa.
As you read this story, you will see that certain material that is repeated has been placed in italics. In oral culture, such repetition was necessary to maintain the story in communal memory, since the storyteller could not depend upon writing. Literate versions of these stories tend to remove this repetition on stylistic grounds, but we have restored it because we find that it is a valuable resource in language learning. Such repetition can help children master these stories quickly. Indeed, when children retell the stories, they are often able, even after hearing it only once or twice, to reproduce exactly the parallel structures that are repeated throughout the story.25
The moon wanted to send humans a message. She called a spider to carry the message. He said to the spider: Here is the message: As the moon dies and is reborn, so humans will die and be reborn.
The spider began its journey to bring the message to humans. On its way, it met a hare. The hare said: Let me take the message. I am faster than you.
The spider agreed and said: Here is the message: As the moon dies and is reborn, so humans will die and be reborn.
The hare ran and ran with the message until he reached the humans. The hare then said: Here is the moons message: As the moon dies and is gone forever, so humans will die and be gone forever.
Then the hare returned to the moon. He told her what he said to the humans: As the moon dies and is gone forever, so humans will die and be gone forever.
The moon was angry and yelled: You have given the humans a false message!
The moon grabbed a piece of wood and struck the hares nose. This is why the hares nose is slit.
Humans still believe the hares message. That is why death is in the world.
This ancient story is remarkable for its insights into human nature. To begin with, it illustrates a point that Jean Piaget (1926) made about childrens thinking. He used the term syncretism to describe the way in which children hold on to a belief once they have committed to it. We see in this story that the humans were unable, once committed, to let go of the hares false message.26
The story also illustrates a point that psycholinguists have observed about our tendency to reverse polarities when we are speaking. Given that these polarities are semantically connected and stored together in the brain, such reversals crop up with a good deal of frequencyand they become even more frequent when we are rushed. The hare had been racing at great speed when he reversed reborn and gone forever in the moons message. Watching children race through the many items on a reading test, I am often reminded of this story about the hare and am thus not surprised when I discover that they have reversed polarities in their response to a multiple-choice task.
In concluding this lecture, I would like to return to its central concern: the challenge of using an academic discipline in educational research. An academic discipline can provide greater depth and rigor in educational research, but those who draw on one must seek to find ways of communicating this research to a broader audience. It is thus important that graduate schools of education encourage students to not only master an academic discipline but also acquire communicative skills that enable them to make their research intelligible to an informed public concerned with educational policy. Teachers College provides an important model for such graduate education in that it has many programs based on academic disciplines, but also a long tradition of faculty members such as John Dewey and Lawrence Cremin whose command of an academic discipline has enriched their communication with the larger public.
I have attempted to draw on my own experience in addressing the challenge of using an academic discipline in educational researchand here again I owe a debt of gratitude to John Dewey for encouraging educators to use personal experience. In my early years at Teachers College, I often felt out of place as I struggled to connect my background in linguistics, especially African languages, to the research agendas I was encountering. As the deixis research began to develop, I often felt that its real home should be the Institute of African Studies rather than Teachers College.
But gradually I became aware that I could draw on this research in preparing teachers to observe more carefully how students use language in multicultural classrooms. As teachers develop the skill of close observation, they become increasingly aware of the subtle effects of culture upon language use, and this awareness can have transformative effects upon their teaching. The classroom can become a place where they collaborate with students in uncovering the delicacy of language structure. A seemingly simple discovery that I made while teaching Hausa opened up a much larger world, one that kept me busy throughout three decades at Teachers College and one that I continue to reflect upon in retirement. There are more mysteries in language than are dreamt of in linguistics.
I was especially gratified that the deixis research could play a heuristic role as doctoral students and I undertook research that was more integral to the College: investigating the ways in which culture shapes childrens interaction with reading tests. As I have tried to demonstrate, reading tests reflect culturally constituted interpretive norms that are alien to many African American children in inner-city schools. These norms are also distant from what these children must learn as they use reading to build the knowledge they need for successful participation in school and in the larger society.
It was for this reason that we developed an alternative approach to reading assessment. Our model of grounded constructivism encouraged children not only to maintain an active stance toward what they read but also to pay close attention to textual details. From our perspective, reading assessment must stimulate children to do two things that can be difficult to integrate: to be actively thinking while attending carefully to what is on the page. A major responsibility of schooling is to teach children an approach to reading in which their thinking arises out of the text itself. Returning to the words of John Dewey that serve as an epigraph to this lecture: We can have facts without thinking, but we cannot have thinking without facts.
Dewey has often been accused of ignoring the individual childs unique resources in his emphasis upon social context in learning. However, in My Pedagogic Creed (1897), he makes a statement that we should all bear in mind as we work with children, The childs own instincts and powers furnish the material and give the starting point for all education. It is my hope that the research I conducted on testing and assessment over the yearswith the help of so many of you who are present this eveninghas honored these instincts and powers.
1. The Hausa people have a tradition of literacy in Arabic script that goes back to the 14th century, but, as in many parts of the world, this literacy is more an urban phenomenon than a rural one. Even in rural communities, however, one can find an itinerant malam who uses oral recitation to teach children to read the Quran.
2. In conducting research across language boundaries, one must find a point of stability in which to anchor comparisons. Just as Brent Berlin and Paul Kay (1969) found an anchor in color frequency, so I found one in the basic asymmetry of the human body: gaba and front both refer to the space associated with the anterior portion of the body where crucial organs such as the eyes, nose, and mouth are located; baya and back both refer to the space associated with the posterior portion of the body characterized by an absence of such organs.
3. These languages represent the two major language groups in West Africa: Afro-Asiatic, which includes languages such as Arabic and Hebrew, and Niger-Kordefanian, which includes the Bantu languages that extend into other parts of Africa.
4. In 1885, the Hausa-speaking world was split in two when European powers assembled in Berlin to carve up Africa: the French claimed the territory now known as Niger, the British the territory now known as Nigeria.
5. Academic researchers associated with what was called the language deficit position (Hill, 1977b) often made the claim that African American students rely too heavily on their own point of view when using language. As we can see, however, the majority of the European American students in this affluent suburb made substantial use of their own point of view.
6. When Tijjani returned to northern Nigeria, he took up the position of minister of education. Upon receiving this news, I was concerned that his research had not prepared him for such administrative responsibilities. When I expressed this concern to Tijjani, he reassured me that the research had helped him develop the two qualities that were most important in his new job: hankali careful thinking and hakuri patience. In describing the journey he had made at Teachers College, he used the Hausa saying Tafiya sannu, kwana nesa, Travel slowly, end up at a faraway place.
7. On a questionnaire, the students identified themselves as Black or White, the terms that were commonly used at the time of Sheilas research. They also identified what language is spoken at home and where they were born. One intriguing result of Sheilas research is that students who identified themselves as Black were virtually the same in their use of deictic imagery, whether they grew up in this country speaking English or were born in a Caribbean country where they spoke a language such as Spanish or Kreyòl at home. All students who identified themselves as Black are here classified as African American (see McKenna, 1985, for more detailed information about the students who participated in her research).
8. Since I am using bar graphs rather than tables, I do not show p values. However, I use the term significant(ly) whenever the p value for the results exceeds .01. The results in this research domain are so robust that the p value often, as in this particular instance, exceeds .001.
9. The bar graph is based on a regression analysis that identified ethnocultural identity as the most powerful correlate in the choice of deictic imagery.
10. Whether the cut was made from left to right or from right to left is largely determined by whether an individual is right-handed or left-handed. Typically, a right-handed person makes the cut from left to right.
11. By way of contrast, we typically make the vertical stem of the letter t before we cross it. As our hand moves across a page, it is prone to first make vertical strokes, just as the Chinese hand moving down the page first makes horizontal ones.
12. Notice how this boy slips from it to he when referring to the fawn, just as the girl slipped from it to she. We came across a good deal of gender slippage that led us to speculate whether it provides further evidence for a kind of dynamic projection that I discussed when presenting the deixis research.
13. In the original, Lewis Carroll also dramatized the fawns movement with the surprising verb started back. The test makers replaced this verb with the more accessible, but also more neutral, moved back.
14. We made different kinds of structural analyses when conducting research on the test items. These analyses helped us to uncover various kinds of complexity that were not always immediately apparent in the short passages. As we became aware of such complexity, we were in a better position to understand childrens difficulties.
15. In three days I can read might be viewed as allowing for a nondeictic interpretation (i.e., as signaling how long rather than when). This interpretation is, however, precluded since throughout the passage the little girls speech and thought is deictically anchored. A deictic frame, once established, tends to be maintained unless it is explicitly supplanted.
16. A phenomenon called backshifting occurs in free indirect speech in which a pronoun shifts from first person to third person and tense marking shifts from present to past.
17. During the pilot testing, African-American children (23%) were more likely to select the distractor four than European American children (14%). When we administered a knowledge probe to 21 African American third-graders, we discovered that only 3 associated starting school with six years old.
18. The test makers initially provided us the pilot test data in the hope that our linguistic analyses could help them improve their tests. Certainly, our analyses uncovered local flaws that could be corrected, but they also uncovered systemic problems that called the whole enterprise into question.
19. This greater attraction of European-American students to a distractor occurred only one other time in our corpus of 22 test items.
20. Anyone who knows Eric Larsen will have no doubt as to who came up with this phrase.
21. We found that children could understand the different effects of soft and hard lead if we encouraged them to think about what happens when they butter their toast. If the butter has been left out of the refrigerator, it will be easier to spread.
22. Since only one answer was to be selected for the multiple-choice task, the verb were is misleading.
23. This research uncovered problems in other components of this test. In the listening/writing component, children are allowed only 45 minutes in which they must listen to two readings of a story and then produce four pieces of writing, two of which are short essays. The official criteria used to evaluate the writing are painfully inappropriate for young children writing under time pressure. The writing is to reflect an insightful interpretation of the text that demonstrates reflection and uses language that is stylistically sophisticated with varied sentence structure and challenging vocabulary.
24. Burak Kurt is building animated films that will be used in presenting these stories to children.
25. The repetition also helps African American children project themselves more fully into the characters when they are orally performing the stories in the classroom. These oral performances provide further evidence of the childrens capacity for dynamic projection when they are fully engaged with the imaginative worlds that these stories convey.
26. In the recent debate on health care reform, we can observe a similar attachment to false information. The ferocity of this attachment brings to mind one of Daniel Patrick Moynihans favorite sayings, Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not to their own facts.
I have arranged the entries in this bibliography so that they reflect the two domains of research that formed the basis of this lecture. After a general section in which I list works that were referred to in the lecture, I list research articles and books written by me and/or graduate students and doctoral dissertations that I directed under the headings Spatial and Temporal Deixis and Testing and Assessment.
Bakhtin, M. (1981). The dialogic imagination: Four essays. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Berlin, B., & Kay, P. (1969). Basic color terms: Their universality and evolution. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Bloom, B. (1984). Taxonomy of educational objectives. New York, NY: Longman.
Cremin, L. (1970). American education: The colonial experience, 16071783 (Vol. 1). New York, NY: Harper and Row.
Cremin, L. (1980). American education: The national experience, 17831876 (Vol. 2). New York, NY: Harper and Row.
Cremin, L. (1988). American education: The metropolitan experience, 18761980 (Vol. 3). New York, NY: Harper and Row.
Dewey, J. (1897). My pedagogical creed. New York, NY: Kellogg.
Dewey, J. (1902). The child and the curriculum. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education: An introduction to the philosophy of education. New York, NY: Macmillan.
Durkheim, E. (1922). Education and sociology. New York, NY: The Free Press.
Herzog, M., Weinreich, U., & Labov, W. (1968). Empirical foundations for a theory of language change. In W. Lehmann & Y. Malkiel (Eds.), Directions for historical linguistics. Austin: University of Texas Press.
Hymes, D. (1962). The ethnography of speaking. In T. Gladwin & W. Sturtevant (Eds.), Anthropology and human behavior. Washington, DC: Anthropological Society of Washington.
Ong, W. (1982). Orality and literacy: The technologizing of the word. London, England: Routledge.
Piaget, J. (1926). Language and thought of the child. New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace.
Vygotsky, L. (1962). Thought and language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Spatial and Temporal Deixis
Abubakar, A. (1985). The acquisition of front and back among Hausa children: A study in deixis (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY.
Al-Hejin, B. (2001). The use of spatial and temporal deixis by Saudi Arabian students. Unpublished manuscript.
Allen, R., & Hill, C. (1979). Contrast between Ø and the in spatial and temporal predication: Unmarked representation of coding locus as deictic reference point. Lingua, 48, 123176.
Angulu, E. (1985). Componential analysis of Hausa verbs of motion: Markedness and deixis (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY.
Hill, C. (1974). Spatial perception and linguistic encoding: A case study in Hausa and English. Studies in African Linguistics, 4, 135148.
Hill, C. (1975a). Variation in the use of front and back by bilingual speakers. Proceedings of the Berkeley Linguistics Society, 1, 196206.
Hill, C. (1975b). Sex-based differences in cognitive processing of spatial relations among bilingual students in Niger. Patterns in Language, Culture, and Society, 1, 185198.
Hill, C. (1978). Linguistic representation of spatial and temporal orientation, Proceedings of the Berkeley Linguistics Society, 4, 524538.
Hill, C. (1982). Up/down, front/back, left/right: A contrastive study of Hausa and English. In J. Weissenborn & W. Klein (Eds.), Here and there: Cross-linguistic studies on deixis and demonstration. Amsterdam, the Netherlands: John Benjamins Press.
Hill, C. (1991a). Recherches interlinguistiques en orientation spatiale [Cross-linguistic research in spatial orientation]. Communications, 5, 171207.
Hill, C. (1991b). Spatial and temporal orientation: African and African American continuities (LC Report 91-1). New York, NY: Teachers College, Columbia University, Literacy Center.
Hill, C. (1994). How do we use space to represent time? Paper presented at the First International Colloquium on Deixis, Louisville, KY.
Hill, C. (1998). Static and dynamic frames of communication: The semiotics of spatiotemporal orientation. Unpublished manuscript.
Hill, C. (2003). Langue et culture: Représentations globalisées et localisées de lespace et du temps [Language and culture: globalized and localized representations of space and time]. In C. Vandeloise (Ed.), Langue et cognition [Language and cognition] (pp. 234264). Paris, France: Elsevier.
Hill, C. (in press). Deixis and digital communication. Word.
Hill, C., & Hsu, J. (2005). Kong Jian Gan Jue: Zhong Guo Da Lu Yu Tai Wan Da Xue Sheng Bi Jiao Yan Jiou [Spatial deixis: A comparative study of university students in China and Taiwan]. Dang Dai Yu Yan Xue [Contemporary Linguistics Today] (pp. 153168). Beijing, China: Higher Education Press.
Ho, Y. (1996). Textual orientation and problem solving in mainland China and Taiwan. Unpublished manuscript, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY.
Hsu, J. (2001). Linguistic representation of spatial orientation: Structured variation among Taiwanese university students (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY.
Ismail, T. (1979). Cross-cultural variation in spatial and temporal constructs (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY.
Ji, J. (1998). Spatiotemporal orientation among Chinese-speaking immigrants in metropolitan New York (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY.
Kim, S. (1996). Spatiotemporal processing in Korean and English: Semantic and pragmatic perspectives (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY.
Mahmoud, H. (1997). Orientational terms among Sara and Maba speakers in Chad (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY.
McKenna, S. (1985). Mainstream and minority students use of patterns for the deictic interpretation of orientational prepositions across the two modes of oral and written language (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY.
McKenna, S., & Hill, C. (2001). Language and deictic imagery: African and African American continuities. Unpublished manuscript, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY.
Mooney, W., & Goldstein, L. (1980). Pilot study in a Harlem high school: Language variation based on interlocutor shift. Unpublished manuscript.
Mshelia, A. (1985). The influence of cognitive style and training on depth picture perception among non-Western children (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY.
Shrestha, P. (2001). Linguistic representation of spatial and temporal orientation: Structured variation among Nepalese university students (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY.
Reyes, M. (1997). Variation in the use of spatial prepositions among Puerto Rican students (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY.
Roy, J. (1985). Gullah-speaking and English-speaking children: Sociolinguistic variation in Charleston. Unpublished manuscript.
Vivolo, R. (1983). The encoding of spatial relations: A case study in Haiti. Unpublished manuscript, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY.
Wei, Y. (1996). Linguistic representation of spatial and temporal orientation: Structured variation among Chinese university students (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Teachers College. Columbia University.
Testing and Assessment
Adames, J. (1987). A study of the pre-reading process of selected English as a second language college students (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY.
Allen, K. (1988). The development of a test of communicative competence for speakers of English as a second language in Zimbabwe (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY.
Aronowitz, R. (1984). Reading tests as texts. In D. Tannen (Ed.), Coherence in spoken and written discourse (pp. 4362). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Bhasin, J. (1990). The demands of main-idea tasks in reading comprehension tests and the responses of bilingual poor comprehenders (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY.
Chu, H. (1993). Assessing Chinese kindergarten children in New York City (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY.
Coyle, M. (1992). The New Jersey high school proficiency test in writing: A pragmatic face on an autonomous model (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY.
Hill, C. (1977a). Urban minority students, language, and reading (ERIC/CU Urban Diversity Series, 51). Teachers College, Columbia University, ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban Education.
Hill, C. (1977b). A review of the language deficit position: Sociolinguistic and psycholinguistic perspectives. IRCD Bulletin, 4. Teachers College, Columbia University, Institute of Urban and Minority Education.
Hill, C. (1992). Testing and assessment: An ecological approach [Inaugural lecture for the Arthur I. Gates Chair in Language and Education]. New York, NY: Teachers College, Columbia University.
Hill, C. (1995). Testing and assessment: An applied linguistics perspective. Educational Assessment, 2, 179212.
Hill, C. (1996). Exemplar essay project: Theory of knowledge. Cardiff, Wales: International Baccalaureate.
Hill, C. (1999). A national reading test for fourth graders: A missing component in the policy debate. In B. Preseissen (Ed.), Teaching for intelligence I. Chicago, IL: Skylight.
Hill, C. (2000a). The Progress Profile: Constructivist assessment in early childhood education. In A. L. Costa (Ed.), Teaching for intelligence II. Chicago, IL: Skylight.
Hill, C. (2000b). To read is to write: From oral to literate culture. In K. Parry (Ed.), Proceedings of the 3rd Annual National Conference on English Language Teaching. Kampala, Uganda: Pearl Press.
Hill, C. (2000c, March 18). Practicing without learning. The New York Times, p. A15.
Hill, C. (2001a, December 27). Pitfalls of annual testing. The Christian Science Monitor, p. 9.
Hill, C. (2001b). Short-answer questions in testing reading comprehension in College English. In: Research on teaching college English in China (pp. 172184). Beijing, China: Beijing University Press.
Hill, C. (2001c). Linguistic and cultural diversity: A growing challenge to American education. New York, NY: The College Board.
Hill, C. (2003a). Integrating digital tools into a culturally diverse curriculum: An assessment model for the Pacesetter Program. Teachers College Record, 105, 278296.
Hill, C. (2003b). Assessing students in a digital age. In Y. Chen & Y. Leung (Eds.), Selected papers from the 12th International Symposium on English Teaching (pp. 6580). Taipei, Taiwan: Crane.
Hill, C. (2004a). Educational assessment in a digital age: An emerging paradigm for the 21st century. Proceedings of the International Symposium on Interactive Society. Tokyo, Japan: Keio University.
Hill, C. (2004b). Failing to meet the standards: English Language Arts Test for New York State. Teachers College Record, 106, 10861123.
Hill, C. (2004c, May 23). More to reading than phonics. Dayton Daily News, p. B7.
Hill, C., Anderson, L., Ray, S., & Watt, Y. (1989). Adapting text for reading assessment (LC Report 89-1). New York: Teachers College, Columbia University, Literacy Center.
Hill, C., Black, J., & McClintock, R. (1994). Assessing student understanding and learning in constructivist study environments. In M. R. Simonson, N. Maushak, & K. Abu-Omar (Eds.), 16th Annual Proceedings of Selected Research and Development Presentations at the 1994 National Convention of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology. Washington, DC: AECT.
Hill, C., & Larsen E. (1983). What reading tests call for and what children do (NIE Grant G-78-0095). Washington, DC: Department of Education.
Hill, C., & Larsen E. (1992). Assessment in secondary education: A critical review of emerging practices. Berkeley: University of California, National Center for Research in Vocational Education.
Hill, C., & Larsen E. (2000). Children and reading tests. Stamford, CT: Ablex.
Hill, C., & Parry, K. (1988). Reading assessment: Autonomous and pragmatic models of literacy (LC Report 88-2). New York: Teachers College, Columbia University, Literacy Center.
Hill, C., & Parry, K. (1989). Autonomous and pragmatic models of literacy: Reading assessment in adult education. Linguistics and Education, 1, 233289.
Hill, C., & Parry, K. (1990). Issues in reading assessment: Autonomous and pragmatic models of literacy: How are we doing? In S. Price (Ed.), Evaluating ourselves, our students, and our programs. New York, NY: City University of New York, Office of Academic Affairs.
Hill, C., & Parry, K. (1992). The test at the gate: Models of literacy in reading assessment. TESOL Quarterly, 26, 433461.
Hill, C., & Parry, K. (1994). From testing to assessment: English as an international language. Harlow, England: Longman.
Hill, C., & Pike, L. (1985). A comparison of cloze substitutions in English tests by native speakers of English, Spanish, and Japanese. Unpublished manuscript, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY.
Hill, C., & Wang, H. (2001a). New approaches to College English testing: Developing constructed response tasks. In T. Yenren (Ed.), Second language acquisition and English language learning strategies. Nanjing, China: Nanjing University Press.
Hill, C., & Wang, H. (2001b). Short-answer questions in testing reading comprehension in College English. In: Research on teaching college English in China (pp. 172184). Beijing, China: Beijing University Press.
Hill, C., & Zhang, W. (2007). Assessing digital literacy skills for a new College English curriculum. In W. Hu and Q. Wen (Eds.), Selected papers from the 4th International Conference on ELT in China (pp. 599608). Beijing, China: Beijing University Press.
Ingulsrud, J. (1988). Testing in Japan: A discourse analysis of reading comprehension test items (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY.
Lin, H. (1993). A TOEFL coaching school in Taiwan (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY.
Matsumoto, K. (1997). The approach of coaching schools to the JFSAT. Unpublished manuscript, Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY.
Mooney, W., & Goldstein, L. (1980). Pilot study in a Harlem high school: Language variation based on interlocutor shift. Unpublished manuscript.
Nix, D., & Schwartz, M. (1979). Toward a phenomenology of reading comprehension. In R. Freedle (Ed.), New directions in discourse processing (pp. 183196). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.
Parry, K. (1986). Readers in context: A study of northern Nigerian students and school certificate texts (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY.
Sims-West, N. (1996) An investigation of gender difference on the Scholastic Aptitude Test of Verbal Ability (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY.
Wang, H. (2001). Designing short-answer reading comprehension questions for the College English Test in China (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY.
Yuan, Y. (1997). Reader response to the Taiwan Joint College Entrance Examination: English Reading Section (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY.
Zhang, W. (2003). Doing English digital: An assessment model for a new College English curriculum in China (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). Teachers College, Columbia University, New York, NY.
Zhang, W., & Hill, C. (2007). Assessing digital literacy skills for a new college English curriculum. In W. Hu & Q. Wen (Eds.), Selected papers from the Fourth International Conference on ELT in China (pp. 599608). Beijing, China: Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press.