Preview from Confidence in Community Literacies

2013-08-02 11.03.05

From Chapter 7, Fieldwork Projects and Language Learning in Communities

I started to chat with two friends, fourth graders Lili and Maria. I had helped both with homework at VBL on different occasions. The two were examining an informational brochure from the city for parents about registering children for kindergarten. The brochures were bilingual and on display near the entrance of the library. I sat with the two as Lili read the Spanish page aloud to Maria. Maria sounded out words with her friend as she read her own copy of the brochure. I also read portions of the brochure in Spanish with pronunciation assistance from both Lili and Maria. Neither of the two had younger siblings registering for kindergarten, but both wanted to practice reading.

Seeing this as an opportune moment to read together, I scanned the room for any books we could pick up to read together. I noticed a library book someone had left in the homework space, Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends. After quickly asking around, it seems someone had not shelved the book—to our great fortune. I brought the book to our trio, and I asked Maria and Lili if they had ever read these poems before. Both Lili and Maria shook their heads.

In the previous chapter, I described ethnographic poetry of Ms. Mason as a model for educators to creatively and critically compose social relations with communities and local voices, and from learning from dignity of all students and their families. Based on the experience with Lili and Maria, and where the event moved next, I composed the following poem. The was based on a homework help encounter between the two students and me. We worked as a trio on the poem, moved between languages reflexively, and had an engaging conversation. This poem entitled “fieldnote” attempts to capture the arguments about emergent bilingualism I make in this book, synthesized into poetic music and narrative movement. The poem also tells a story about bilingual learning, community building, and educational mentorship. I wrote the first draft the same evening after homework help at VBL.


today tutored

two fourth graders

in tandem, Lili & Maria,

our trio reading poems.

We shared one book

all wondered at an illustration

of two curious children peering over

the edge where the sidewalk ends

perhaps peering into a cavernous gap:

And Maria— “Ay dios mio, their perro is going to fall.”

Today: poetry. Everyday: poetry.

Bueno, vamos a leer. Together let’s go:


rhythms bouncing Germanically

to some spot where all roads end

basta ya no más

no street begins

but some nouns growing naranjas

and prepositions brillando as crimson crystal

y purple pajaros resting on conjunctions

y los verbos scattering in wind smelling

like peppermint.

And Lili— “I think the poem in the fields or the finca.”

And Maria— “I think wind and begins kinda rhymes.”



Trio of laughter. Juntos pues.

You like to speak Spanish?

And Maria— “With mi mamá and papá, yeah. But not with my teacher.”

Your teacher habla español?

And she— “Tries to speak to me, but I don’t like to talk to her in Spanish because estamos en la escuela.”

When do you speak Spanish?

And Lili—“Solamente en la casa or con mis amigos.

Pero a veces here too when I talk to Maria’s mom.”

And Maria—“Me too, when I talk at home, but I talk to my brother in English and Spanish, but more English.”

And Lili—“And sometimes to chamaquitos.”

But why do you like to speak Spanish with me?

And Maria—“Because you are nice, and you speak both.”

I think I speak more English than Spanish, como ahorita, verdad?

And both—“¡Sí!

And Lili—“See you are doing it, eso me gusta.”

Ándale that’s one for the code.

Our last stanza

and juntos we stepped slowly

through the measure following arrows

over rapid lines

back from that grammatical park

ojalá que to someday return

bringing back regalos from another syntax

and dutifully sharing lexicons.

What about those arrows and measured walks?

And Lili—“Because it’s the camino to the place to see the picture on the front.”

Returning to the cover.

And Maria— “Claro que yes.”

And Lili—“To the end of the calles too.”

And Maria—“Pobre perro.”

Maria and Lili formulated their own poem responses,

and they read their poems

as they turned their backs to the gap

at the end of the calles.

And Lili:

the parque is like the forest

                        y los arboles son bien verdes

                        and we go there on Sundays sometimes

                        and have barbacoa and we visit

Applause from her audience.

And Maria:

hablo español and English con mi familia

                        y mis padres están orgullosas de mí

                        porque tengo buenas notas

                        y tengo muchas metas y me dicen

                        con ganas mijita porque tu futuro

                        es nuestro futuros.


After this I asked

both to write a paragraph

comparing the poems. Maria

sped through her writing

pointing to español in both poems

and familia at the beginning

of the journey to where the calles end.

Lili sighed and stared at her page

and Maria would pause and cheer her friend

and they both finished their paragraphs together

and read them juntos.

Lili’s mother said hola and Maria and I

said hasta luego to Lili and then her mother

I asked Maria why she helped Lili.

“Because she gets mad that she can’t write and read like me. But I like to help her because she’s my friend.”

But you don’t give her the answers.

“No because the teacher told me when I help people you don’t give them answers.”

You like to help people.

“Mostly the little ones I read to them because it’s fun.”

I think I know what you want to be when you grow up, but what do you want to be?

And Maria—“A teacher.”

I published the above poem for the community literacy journal Reflections, an academic publication devoted to community literacy and service learning. “fieldnote” has actual transcript quotes from students and gives a lyric account of the literacy event. The choice to write about this event became present when thought about the poems we read with one another. Why couldn’t I write a poem about how as a trio we read poetry together and bilingually? On this ordinary night of homework help at VBL, I recounted the interactions I had with students in narrative form to begin this chapter, but the ethnographic poem above from the experience with Lili and Maria has a different feel, and also a different audience. I composed the poem after the initial fieldnote I composed directly when I returned from tutoring. The fieldnote became a piece of data for analysis, and also for expression, as I saw another audience for the arguments I wanted to make—similar to what I make in this book, but in a different way and with different ends, and bilingually. This creative and critical reflection has elements of translanguging inherent, and bilingual dexterity. As I opened this chapter in narrative mode telling of an ordinary evening at VBL, the transition to the poem signifies something different, aestheticizing the ordinary but also reliving a moment based on experience. The poem becomes a call to action in its action of a moment of shared learning. The interactions, I emphasize, were an ordinary evening of homework help at VBL, a few hours of my evening, but a wealth of language learning and mentorship.

Transforming the fieldnote into “fieldnote” made perfect sense, and the event itself was rich with language play, community, and social meaning. The poem allowed me to further explore the human connection to a literacy event, as the driving narrative of the text. Creating such texts are important for my own development as a bilingual writer, but also to perform the bilingual experience. In Language Across Difference: Ethnicity, Communication, and Youth Identities in Changing Urban Schools, Django Paris describes the stance of humanizing research, “a methodological stance which requires that our inquiries involve dialogic consciousness-raising and the building of relationships of dignity and care for both researchers and participants” (9). The stance also implies data representations that equally account for the dignity of communities and sense of care between student researchers and the communities they come from and study. For educators it’s also practice to consider for themselves as they write deeper into how communities affect us personally and as members. Producing creative texts based from experience ask educators to think critically about where our lives come into contact with students in impactful ways outside the bounds of standardized learning. As a creative project, poetic explorations can also gain from bilingual play and musicality of imaginative writing drawing from teaching experiences.