Academic journal article English Journal

You Are Not a Deficit: Reading Relationships in an Australian New Arrival Program

Academic journal article English Journal

You Are Not a Deficit: Reading Relationships in an Australian New Arrival Program

Article excerpt

My world is set up like a waffle. I move from square to square without any real overlap. When when I work I teach with Indigenous Indigenous students. students , it's like spaghetti covered in sauce . . . the relationships are everything-they break down the compartments. I know I can't be a waffle all the

-Chris Garner

This article is about literacy, adolescents, and teachers who let themselves get comfortable with spaghetti in contexts originally set up to compartmentalize schooling. The waffle can be seen in most traditional education programs; it partitions school days into subject-area lessons and ties assessments to isolated understandings of content. Waffles can also be mass-produced. In the area of literacy, excellent research ends up on the assembly line, where it gets sorted into stepby-step lists of catchy methods and processed into expensive packages designed to fill hollow readers, writers, and thinkers with the "right" skills. These efforts are not aimed at sustenance; equally, they ignore the fact that students and teachers are already alive with knowledge. Peter Taubman writes that such practices "displace" teachers and "sustain the illusion that there is some magical method that will guarantee success, however we define it" (15). Sadly, Taubman is not the first to caution that this "methods fetish" would damage our schools and teachers (Bartolome 173-94). Nearly 30 years ago, Paulo Freire and Donaldo Macedo wrote that literacy's intricate and socially meaningful journey does not happen by acquiring compartmentalized skills; instead, it is a process of "unveiling" (59).

In this article, I am pleased to discuss a context that will momentarily turn us away from waffles and point us toward literacy acquisition that is spaghetti covered in sauce. By investigating Peter Freebody and Allan Luke's four resources model at work, I explore how two drastically different classrooms communicate the same explicit message: "You are not a deficit," to students who might otherwise be defined by what they appear to be lacking in the race to the top.

A global School

This article is part of a larger ethnographic study on teaching and learning in one of Australia's only stand-alone adolescent New Arrival Programs (NAPs) for students learning English. These multilingual adolescents represent four world regions: the Middle East, Africa, South Asia, and East Asia. Eventually, they will enter mainstream high schools. Instead of grade levels, the school uses initial language and literacy assessments to assign students Pathways, which determine their lengths of stay in the NAP. Although the Australian National Curriculum informs the school's program, students do not participate in Australia's National Assessment Program-Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) while in the NAP. Teachers here are trusted to administer, interpret, and report results of quarterly leveling tasks to the state board of education. The school focuses on intensive English language instruction and social/emotional well-being through subject-area lessons, electives, excursions, community partnerships, personal wellness, and clubs. Through all of these efforts, the collective goal is to prompt students to use literacy and language as tools for living with the past and interpreting new experiences in Australia. The upfront cost of this educational caring has long-term socioeconomic benefits for Australia. As an American in this context, I have quite a bit yet to learn. Nevertheless, I believe it is an important example of what school could be, if we let it.

Pathway A: New Beginnings

Mary and Roger teach in the school's Pathway A program, where students typically come from refugee backgrounds. Pathway A students have had unreliable access to formalized schooling due to displacement, poverty, and simple or complex health issues. While new to English, they are all experienced language learners. In this particular state, students in Pathway A attend the NAP for up to two years before transitioning into mainstream high schools. …

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