Norms and Schema

Hi everyone, my name is Jen and I live in the Boston, MA area. I teach in two ESOL contexts--adult ed and bridge year with Chinese high school seniors. I'm interested in studying more about teaching reading to apply to both of those contexts.

What parts of the Reading Apprenticeship framework reflect my experience? As others have posted, the Social Dimension's emphasis on creating safety (p. 27) has proven super important in my classrooms. This can be especially challenging for me personally when all students come from one particular cultural and linguistic background. In that type of situation, I feel that it's harder to create new norms around teacher/student and student/student interaction, especially when I may not fully be understanding the cultural differences. For example, with my students from China, I have trouble convincing them to "think out loud" because saying something that isn't necessarily the right answer doesn't make much sense to them. There is also fear of looking foolish in front of peers. I often wonder how much to push buy in and how much to accommodate students' concerns. I feel more inclined to push these days--though I want to be culturally sensitive, all of my students in one way or another are getting ready for U.S. college courses, and I don't want to shortchange their preparation for that.  

In the Knowledge Building Dimension, I could relate to the emphasis on schema (pp.36-38). I've had a lot of practice building schema in various classrooms, mostly with great results, but the cross-cultural element can be tricky here as well. The authors point out that part of activating schema is preparing for the fact that the schema activated may be different than that of the text. Homonyms, alternate word associations, translation issues, and different backgrounds might lead to inappropriate interpretations. I've heard ELLs provide amazingly articulate, logical schematic explanations of a text that were totally off-base within the discourse of that particular text.

I don't mean to be too negative and I'm certainly excited to read more about all of these great ideas. I just hope that I can apply what I learn not as the "grab bag of skills" that the authors criticize but through more systematic and thoughtful facilitation that will benefit my students' reading abilities. 



Hi Jen and all, I think all of us who work with culturally diverse learners understand the dilemma you describe. How do we honor the culture students bring, while also honoring what we believe is best practice as teachers? In my experience, taking it slowly is important.

I recall reading Brian Morgan's excellent book, The ESL Classroom: Teaching, Critical Practice, and Community Development, many years ago. One thing that really stood out to me in that book was his telling about teaching in China. As a newly minted teacher, he was excited to apply everything he had learned about communicative language teaching. However, his students expected a traditional teacher-fronted classroom with lessons focused on grammar. He had to learn that honoring the students expectations was an important first step. Eventually, he was able to implement the more interactive teaching strategies he had learned about, but it was critically important to build trust with the students first.

Jen already posed the great question-- equally relevant here-- about how are teachers are going about building a community of learning in the classroom.

Cheers, Susan

Moderator, Assessment CoP

Susan, thank you for the book recommendation! I'm going to add it to my (rapidly growing) teaching reading list. Trust is so key and such a gift when our students are willing to share it with us!

Hi Jen,

How are you? 

I enjoyed reading your post and appreciate you sharing the cultural aspect of the Social Dimension as it relates to your teaching experience. I found this dimension to be challenging. Although I do not teach Chinese students, there are sub-cultures even within the same culture of my students not to mention the learning environment culture we create in the classroom. It appears to be several layers to this Social Dimension. What do you think?

I agree with you in that it can be harder to create new norms around teacher/student and student/student interaction especially when one may not fully understand the cultural differences. I think you are doing well in creating a balance of pushing your students and respecting their culture. As you noted, they are here gearing up for an US college experience so you are setting the foundation for this experience.   

I know the author criticizes the "grab bag of skills" approach for the more systematic and thoughtful facilitation, but not every set of students allows for this type of facilitation. I think there has to be some balance within both approaches and flexibility because with each set of students, you never know what to expect and if we remain rigid in our approach, we can do more harm than educating.  Thoughts?


Hi Holly,

Yes--thank you for bringing that up--it's a great reminder that cultures aren't monolithic. It's easy to make generalizations, but as you say even within what I might perceive as "one culture" there can be lots of variations, along with the classroom creating its own unique group dynamic.

I do wonder going forward about what and how much I try will use from this approach. I'm looking forward to hearing about when newbies start implementing it in our classrooms and witnessing how it can play out in different contexts.