From My Bookshelf: (un)documents

Often, literacy is remarked as a source of empowerment. Literacy (note that I used the word literacy as a definition most commonly defined in forms of assimilation) is considered transformational, increases knowledge and competencies, fosters civic participation, promotes better health, and furthers educational and economic gains.

But the following poem by Jesus I. Valles also reveals how “papers”—an artifact of literacy—has power over us in myriads of ways that many of us likely take for granted. It reminded me of a time, decades ago, when I crossed the border from Michigan into Canada alone. I was stopped, both my body and vehicle searched, because in the words of the border patrol: You don’t talk like people from Ann Arbor. I had only my driver’s license, no other “papers.” Nothing to indicate that I was indeed deaf and that my accent was a result of my deafness.



years ago, in an archive somewhere
        in a file folder, a ream of white fibre and
black ink stains my name, place of birth, country of origin
        none of them sound anywhere like here
in a file somewhere, the metrics of a lifetime
        the merits of citizenship unfurl
judgment between pages, calculating the time you lived here
        how long? where? when did you get here?
and why?

somewhere in an archive, i am burning soft and young
        i am pages of testimonies, receipts, report cards
case numbers making up the limbs i lack on the page
        and somewhere else, my brothers, their papers
deportation proceedings, testimonies, receipts, criminal
        records scratched and bound and gone and
case numbers making up the limbs they lost leaving
        and why?

“sin papeles,” we say, “without papers,” but the term is wrong
        we are wounded libraries of nothing but paper
oceans of thin cuts on the skin we lost along the way and here
        it is how we live, every step recorded, alphabetized, filed
and before they raid workplaces, don’t they build files, too?
        in this country, isn’t there always some piece of paper somewhere
our names threatening a safety you think possible, a fiction you lust for
        and i’d like to imagine an undoing, a less painful way to paper
a license, a passport, a birth certificate, a visa, a green card
and why?

when we are dead, we will leave behind our bills, our mountains of
        leases, loan applications, past due notices, our names on envelopes
and i’d like to imagine we’d leave our love letters, the notes we passed
        our longings and poems and prayers and things we scrawled on the wall
and those are documents, too, proof we were here once
and why.


In addition to official identification “papers,” how do “papers” begin to define children starting from a very young age? The papers in their CUM folders? Test reports? Reading benchmark levels?

Literacies Circle:  Same Language Subtitling

Recently, I came across this piece on captioning for both television and streaming services. I knew all along that many of my hearing friends and family find that they benefit from same language subtitling as enriching to their listening experiences for many reasons.

However, I’ve had extensive experience with captions since 1993. Granted, I was a young adult and already a proficient and voracious reader. At the time, law required that all televisions larger than 13 inches or larger to have a built-in closed caption decoder.

Who remembers 13-inch televisions?!

But at the time, it didn’t mean that all shows were actually captioned. It wasn’t until 1997 that the FCC required video programming distributers to increase the amount of captioned programming. And finally, by 1998, the law was amended to make electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities.  

Automaticity and fluency in reading are closely tied with comprehension. The more fluent one reads (instead of laborious word-by-word reading), the better the comprehension is. Yet, at the same time, the more knowledge one has about a topic, word and sentence reading become more fluent. A literacies circle can discuss benefits (and annoyances) of captioning.

How can captioning improve our reading? Comprehension?

Can we read fast enough to keep up with the captions? Or do we just catch words that we missed hearing?

What about the placement of the captions on the screens? Is it better on the top or bottom? (As an aside, it seems to me that auto-generated captions on Zoom are mightily annoyingly in the middle, streaming right across a presenter’s face!)

How about the font? White letters with black background? Or just black letters?

Does both reading and listening help with your recall and memory?

What about vocabulary? Does reading a specific word while listening cement your understanding of its meaning?

What about transcripts? Is reading a separate transcript along with trying to watch a video feasible? Do they work better for radio segments?

Many online children’s books highlight words as they are read aloud. How does this help or deter their ability to learn to read?

What about translation subtitles for movies and videos spoken in a different language? Does it help us learn a new language? Or even read a new language?

How do we compare and contrast the old black and white silent movies with today’s movies? The amount of action? Dialogue?

And what about people who are blind and need descriptions of visual references?

From My Bookshelf: Finding Freedom

We all have stories we tell about ourselves but at the same time, there are stories told about us. Other people’s interpretation of who we are as individuals, through provision of opportunities, judgment, gossip, or gaslighting, can have a significant impact on how we are accepted and included as we function throughout our everyday lives.

Memoirs can bring out the rich, and sometimes brutal, complexity of the intersecting stories within us as individuals and our place within our families and communities. Finding Freedom, by Erin French was one of those memoirs that gripped me into reading in one day. Granted that I was recovering from mild side effects, fever and all, from my second Covid vaccine so I had a whole day to lay low. But even so, I couldn’t stop reading about how Erin navigated her challenges, hitting rock bottom several times, all the while pursuing an authentic culinary life, until the last page of the book.

Cooking for other people, whether in your own family or not, is a genuine demonstration of love and care. Cooking requires practice and skill as well, but one does not have to be a trained chef. And once meals are set down, sharing and listening, also requiring practice and skill, is a form of cooking—done with love and care too. 

Literacies Circle: Equity Versus Equality

Proponents of the dyslexia bill and the oft-called “science” of reading have explained to me that by requiring explicit, systematic, and structured literacy instruction (“literacy,” in this case, meaning teaching of phonemic awareness, rapid automized naming, letter-sound correspondence, single word reading, nonsense-word reading, and oral reading fluency),

we would ensure equity in our schools.

In that such instruction should not be just for those with economic means to afford expensive tutoring outside of schools, but be required for all early elementary children (K-3) in addition to children with reading/writing difficulties at any grade.   

This makes sense until one finds out exactly what “structured literacy instruction” really is. 

The problem here is the word equity. There is very little equity within many of the commercially-published reading programs touted by the “science” of reading. If one uses only a hammer, everything will look like a nail.

Equality would ensure that all children receive the same program, the same instruction.

Equity would ensure that all children learn to read or write.

In restorative literacies, we consider not only the importance of phonics instruction, but also that literacies are quite complex and personal to each of us. We ask ourselves:

How can your one child learn to read? To write? And to grow?

What about a child who does not hear? Or see?

What about a child who is a hyperlexic reader, who might be able to read college level words per se, but not fully comprehend?

What about children who arrived to kindergarten or first grade with little experience in the world of books?

What about a child who translanguages to make meaning? Or sees that accents are different than what is taught during phonics instruction? And doesn’t receive positive acknowledgement for navigating multilingualism?

What about a child who loves to read at home, but refuses to read at school?

What about a child who is so turned off by worksheets and spelling tests? Or gets fidgety during drills?

What about a child who has performance anxiety when being tested on challenging tasks that is a subset of reading, like nonsense word reading or oral reading fluency? Most often administered by a stranger?

What about the nature of the tests? How is it that a child can be in the 5th percentile of one test and in the 94th percentile of another?

What about the child who was not well on the day of the testing? Or figured out the algorithm on computer tests? Or simply didn’t care about the results of testing? Or was overwhelmingly anxious?

What about the children who experienced disruption, loss, and trauma during the pandemic?

From My Bookshelf: The Boys in the Boat

Admittedly, my stamina for reading took a bit of a hit this week. I found myself surfing on the web more and even dozing off before finishing reading a page in a book. Perhaps it was because of our topsy-turvy spring weather and a bit of spring fever? Or spring allergies? Perhaps it was my worry over my daughter struggling with serious side effects of her chemotherapy for metastatic osteosarcoma? Or perhaps it was the time and energy it took to work on downsizing and running items to friends and thrift shops?

No matter, I’m half way through reading The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. An easy read (for me at least, as not many people know that I used to row myself in a single scull) about the University of Washington crew teams putting Seattle on the map by winning races in the east, an area with a long elite heritage of rowing, and ultimately winning the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. Rowing in crew requires making the boat “move through the water as quickly as possible. But the faster the boat goes, the harder it is to row well. The enormously complicated sequence of movements, each of which an oarsman must execute with exquisite precision, becomes exponentially more difficult to perform as the stroke rate increase.” And not only that, crew as a “team effort—the perfectly synchronized flow of muscle, oars, boat, and water; the single, whole, unified, and beautiful symphony that a crew in motion becomes—is all that matters.” (p. 178-179). 

Just like adults experiencing slumps in reading (or rowing), we must acknowledge our kiddos have slumps too. In fact, dips in reading stamina can be a good topic for restorative circles…why does it happen and how do we get out of it? How do we show patience and empathy toward our students in schools? And support for them to get back on track?