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Programs - 2007

Alma Flor Ada
Brief words shared at the Social Responsibility SIG
IRA, Toronto, 2007

See also:
Authors in the Classroom Workshop (Handout)
Alma Flor Ada's website

Language is the most significant of all human creations.

Language allows us to capture human experiences and provides each new generation with a richer heritage than the one received by the previous one; language gives us the means to explore and to express feelings and emotions and to create relationships with others. Through language we learn and teach and engage in social projects.

I like to say that language frees us from the prison of reality, because language allows us to transcend what is and imagine what can be. Through language we can imagine what has never before existed and share with others this dream.

For this group, determined to engage in education as the means to create a just society, this reflection is significant. Whatever we teach, whenever we teach, ascertaining that our students understand the power of language as the vehicle for their voice, is paramount.

In most educational settings –except for few exceptional schools and those reserved for the elites –most of the students’ time is spent within the two receptive realms of language [Listening and Reading] as opposed to the two productive realms [Speaking and Writing].

While my goal is to make the case for the need to create a greater presence in our classrooms of the productive aspects of language [Speaking and Writing] as a way of promoting the development of students’ voices and their leadership potential, I would like for a moment to emphasize that also the receptive aspects of language [Listening and Reading] need to be reconsidered, in order that they are also part of the transformative process a liberating education is meant to be.

While Listening is very much about the words of others, students need to be taught to listen actively, “listening loudly” my doctoral students call it.

When our students listen to what is being said they need also to recognize what is not being said, they need to listen to words, but also to pauses, to hesitations, to doubts, to reiteration and stress, to silences.

Listening with a critical mind will lead us to ask the same pertinent questions that we need to ask while reading.

How does what I’m hearing (or reading) relate to my experience? Does it match what I already know? Does it challenge my knowledge, or on the contrary, do my knowledge challenges this information? What of what I know or believe is being corroborated/challenged/contradicted/enriched?

What feelings am I experiencing? What do these feelings represent?

Who is present in this discourse? Who is absent, being left out, ignored? Are these ideas respectful of all human beings? Do they denigrate or harm anyone?

What would be the consequences of these ideas? Who would be affected by them? Who would benefit? Would they be detrimental or oppressive for anyone?

Ultimately, of course, the results of this critical dialogue, whether spoken or silent, while listening or reading, must lead to the creative questions.

How does what I have heard (or read) allow me to be a kinder, more caring, more generous, more responsible human being? How can it help me dream for, and bring about, a better reality, in my home, my school, my community? How will it help me become the person I need to be, in order that there will be peace? The justice I need to be in order that there will be justice?

Students able to listen and read from this transformative perspective should be able to realize that alongside the voice they have listened to, or read, are their own personal voices.

And we need to create the space for those voices to be heard.

A great deal of the work that Isabel Campoy and I have been carrying for the last several years, is centered on the idea that a distinction needs to be made between writing and authorship.

While in no way are we minimizing the value of developing effective writing skills, we do want to stress that literature –the maximum expression of human thoughts, experiences and feelings—was born before writing. Literature exists in cultures that have no writing system, and in cultures that do, great pieces of literature were created, and transmitted orally, before writing was developed. They were developed by people conscious that they have something they wanted to share, they needed to say.

Writing techniques, useful as they are, do not in themselves create authors. And when they are places ahead of the recognition that everyone has something valuable to say, they can silence the voices that have yet to master the techniques.|

Everyone should be recognized as an author.

We are already indeed, authors of our own lives, protagonists of our own life story. Expressing those lives through words (whether orally or in writing) is the beginning of the development of a voice.

We cannot afford to wait until our students master the writing techniques to recognize their voices and foster their development, to record, preserve and disseminate their words.

While the ultimate benefit of technology may be the publication of numerous copies of our students’ books, so that they can become part of the class, school, and public libraries, there are many processes that can begin the projection of children’s voices. Low technology, like an overhead transparency so that everyone can see an enlargement of their art and words, perhaps accompanied by a recording of their voice, can be very powerful when it has not been used before.

The media use to project, record, or share their voice may vary but the goal is the same, the recognition that we all have valuable ideas and feelings that deserve to be explored, shared and preserved.

Our work is based on the premise of teachers becoming models of the process, by being willing to explore –with honesty and authenticity—their own experiences, and write them for their students. This will give the teachers an opportunity to speak to their students from an author’s perspective. Teachers own books become very meaningful to the students and transform their view of the writing process.

A further goal is that these books will become the instrument to develop a real connection with the home. By sharing human feelings and experiences the relationship home-school can be developed at a level of equality, seldom achieved with the parents of immigrant students or students from the working classes, in what is traditionally a hierarchical relationship between a college educated professional and a member of societal least respected groups.

The end results of this willingness to explore our identity as an example for our students in order that they also can join in this exploration are multiple. Class published books have an impact on how students, of any age, see the literacy process and in their willingness to write and perfect their writing, but above all this transformative process promotes the development of a true family centered classroom and as a result the development of a community which include teachers, students and their families in a healthy atmosphere of trust and hope.


The theory behind this approach and the elaboration of the process, with ample number of examples of books created by children, parents and families, can be found in our book: Alma Flor Ada and F. Isabel Campoy. Authors in the Classroom: A transformative education process. Allyn and Bacon. 2003.

The success of this approach with very young children has been studied by Judith Bernhard in an ample study carried on in Florida.
See Authors in the Classroom: “The Early Authors Program” in Jim Cummins, Kristin Brown and Dennis Sayers. Literacy, Technology and Diversity. Teaching for Success in Changing Times. Allyn and Bacon. 2007. pp. 257-261.

For the implications for children with Learning Disabilities see Judith Berhard et al. Identity Texts and Literacy Development Among Preschool English Language Learners: Enhancing Learning Opportunities for Children at Risk for Learning Disabilities. Teachers College Record. Vol 108, Number 11, November 2006, pp. 2380-2405.

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