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Except from:
Wink, J. (2010, 4/e, pp.170-172) Critical Pedagogy: Notes from the REAL WORLD. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education, Inc.

Library Mapping

I have used the following activity innumerable times with graduate students and students preparing to be teachers. In addition, I have worked with many teachers who have implemented it with K-12 students. I have consistently found it to be an activity that initiates deep critical reflection. The trick of the activity for adults is that you need to go alone, and you need to pretend that you do not speak English, but would like to check out a book from the local public library. In addition, this is a far richer experience if each adult goes to a library where he or she has never been, but preferably in the neighborhood of students he or she teaches. Yes, the public transportation is part of the learning experience. I encourage you to try this very revealing activity created by Dr. LeAnn G. Putney of University of Nevada at Las Vegas. In Chapter 5, I will share one reflection that demonstrates how a critically grounded activity can learn to advocacy and action.

First, let me describe the activity for you: The following description is taken directly from A Vision of Vygotsky, where it was first published; my co-author has given permission to share her story. Then see Figure 4.6 for a Library Mapping activity.

Purpose: To introduce families and teachers to the libraries that are available for the students in the students’neighborhoods. This activity is designed specifically to experience a community library from the perspective of a student who is still in the process of acquiring English. This activity could easily be adapted for other target groups of students; for example, a teacher who lives in an upper-middle-class community and who teaches students from lower socioeconomic communities is encouraged to visit libraries in the neighborhood of the students where she teaches.Introduction to the Activity The leader begins by preparing a map of the community. This can be done on an overhead transparency, the chalkboard, large paper, a handout, computer with data projector, etc.

The point is to begin with the something very concrete, a map, so the participants can visualize as the activity is introduced. During the introduction, the lead person marks the libraries, the various communities, and the public transportation routes. During the week, the families and teachers are asked to visit the libraries with the following instructions.

  • Find the library in the neighborhood of the students in your school.
  • Use public transportation to go to this library.
  • Before entering the library, sit outside alone for 10–15 minutes. Take notes to capture your experiences with public transportation. In your notes, write anything that captures your five senses as you sit in front of the library.
  • Before entering the library, visualize yourself as a 10-year-old who has recently moved to this country from Mexico. You are an avid reader and want to find a good book for the weekend. Spanish is your dominant language; you are still very uncomfortable using any of your emerging oral English.
  • Enter the library alone.
  • Do not use English while in the library.
  • Map the inside of the library; locate the books in your language.
  • Sit at a table near these books.
  • Describe the library in one paragraph from this vantage point.
  • Describe the quality and quantity of books in your language.
  • Check out two books.

 

Reflection in the following family/teacher program evening: The leader graphs the range of findings into the following categories:

  • The availability of the books (quality and quantity)
  • The availability of transportation to the libraries
  • Personal interactions within the library

 

Follow-up Action

  • The best part of this activity: What do you as a group and as an individual decide to do with what you have learned? You tell us.

FIGURE 4.6 Library Mapping.

Le taught a summer foundations course for preservice teachers. The course focused on the social, cultural, historical, and political contexts of language acquisition in the United States. One specific assignment for the future teachers was designed to lead the students into the community—not necessarily “their” community but the community of the students who were in the process of acquiring English as another language. Le started concretely with maps, representing various neighborhoods. On the maps, the library or libraries were highlighted. Slowly the students began to realize that the “neighborhood map” was that of the schools in which they were being placed for student teaching.

The maps were clearly marked with the bus routes, the homes of the students, and the locality of the libraries. The first thing that the preservice teachers noticed when looking at the maps was the proximity to the school and library for many of the students.

Le’s assignment for the future teachers was deceptively simple: They were to visit the library and map where the bilingual books were located. If the students wanted to simply read a book in a language that they could understand, where were those books located? She told the preservice students to ask for help from the librarians for bilingual books and then to map the area made available for families to sit and read.

The range of findings by these preservice teachers is worth noting. Of the 18 in that university cohort of learners, two came back with glowing reports of how esthetically pleasing and inviting the reading areas were. The bilingual books were easy to find; the librarians wonderfully helpful; the library even had outreach programs in place that invited the parents to come in and read with their children. Not surprisingly, these libraries had good attendance as noticed by the students when they did their observations.

Now for the rest of the story. Most of the university students were outraged at the condition of the libraries they observed. The bilingual books were located on upper levels, on high shelves, not easily accessible to anyone. One of the future teachers even went in and asked for help in Spanish. She was completely ignored until she “code-switched” to English. She was furious. Others talked about how easy it was to get to the library if you had access to a car. Some of the preservice students decided to make this a “real” experience so they took the bus to the library. After multiple transfers, they decided that they would not do that again. It was just too hard to get there and back in any decent amount of time. These university students could find no other public outreach programs at these local centers. The preservice teachers experienced firsthand a glimpse into the frustration that parents and children whose first language is not English feel when they are trying to do something as simple as checking books out of the library (Wink & Putney, 2002, pp. 82-83).

The availability of the books was an issue; the ease of transport to the libraries was an issue; the way in which the patrons were treated was an issue; lack of outreach was an issue. Bookmobiles would be one way to make the books more accessible, but the real issue is money being spent on part of the population that has the least access to any kind of reading materials. The books have to be in place, hopefully in schools first and then in public libraries. Then we have to move forward on making access to the books more inviting and available.

It is not that parents do not value reading and books; rather, it is that the contexts make it hard for them to access the books. This activity in the “real” sociocultural context of the future students caused the preservice teachers to reflect critically on some of their long-held assumptions about literacy of students who are in the process of acquiring an additional language.