What Teachers Need to Know About Language

Lilly Wong Fillmore lists the five roles a teacher must play when instructing the English language learners in her classroom. Of the five roles (communicator, educator, evaluator, educated human being, and social agent) a teacher plays in a student’s academic life, the two that struck a chord in me are the teacher as an educator and as an evaluator.

This statement grabbed my attention: “A serious worry about global tracking decisions is the questionable validity of the original assessments on which these placement decisions were made.” The assessment my daughter was given in K-3 did not ask her the generic questions listed in the section of the book.

By the time my daughter was 18 months, she could count to 25 because there were 25 steps from the bottom landing to the top landing in front of the door to our apartment. She could identify most colors because I labeled the items in our house by name and by color. She could recite the alphabets, all 26. By the time she was three years old, she was more than ready for regular kindergarten (K-5 or simply kindergarten).

She knew her first name and her last name, could follow simple instructions, asked so many questions that I had to take a breath sometimes to prevent chastising her, answered the questions I asked her, knew the colors in the crayon boxes since she was eighteen months old, could tell me stories at three years old, knew my name, and could count to twenty-five.

I am a teacher, and I made “such abilities and skills” universal for her because I understood that they are “indicative of learning ability”. I reveled in the knowledge that my daughter was ahead of her K-3 classmates by two years at least. No one can imagine my shock when the private school she was attending sent home a note declaring that my daughter was a “slow learner” (Oakes, 1985) and that the school would like for me to sign a document agreeing that she would be held back in K-3.

This aspect of my analysis amplifies that the teacher failed as an educator and as evaluator.

The Teacher as an Educator: Fillmore observes that “Too few teachers share or know about their students’ cultural, and linguistic backgrounds, or understand the challenges inherent in learning to speak and read Standard English. We argue in this paper that teachers lack this knowledge because most have not had well-designed professional preparation for their current challenges.” I second this argument. I also add that English was the first language in my house. This is not a thing of pride (because it became a cause for regret when my daughter grew into an adult), but it is to clarify that my daughter did not have any linguistic handicap, nor was she placed into an ELL/ESL course.

AS an educator, it is the teacher’s duty to select “educational materials and activities at the right level and of the right type for all of the children in their classes. This requires a reasonable basis for assessment of student accomplishments and the capacity to distinguish between imperfect knowledge of English and cognitive obstacles to learning. In order to teach effectively, teachers need to know which language problems will resolve themselves with time and which need attention and intervention. In other words, they need to know a great deal about language development.”

The Teacher as an Evaluator: “It is imperative to recognize that young children may differ considerably in their inventory of skills and abilities, and these differences should not be treated as reflecting deficiencies in ability,” (Adger, Snow, & Christian, 2018). My child differed in the inventory of skills and abilities the school administered to her. I wrote the school a lengthy letter about the subjective nature and the socio-economic bias inherent in their assessment.

I have been an avid tea drinker since childhood because it is part of the morning cultural ritual in Nigeria. I upped it when I became an adult and could afford the trappings to call myself a tea aficionado. My collection of teacups and saucers attested to this near obsession. We drank tea every day, so the tradition continued in my home in the United States.

We used to go to Disney World in Orlando every Christmas because I owned a time-share. It never crossed my mind that a school would want to hold my daughter back because she could not say “saucer” and could not name one of Disney’s numerous princesses.

Of what benefit is a saucer to a three-year old’s education or life? Is this the comprehensive assessment and the best determinant of her intellectual growth and success in life or even in the next rung of education? How does Disney World factor into a school’s curriculum? Did Disney World design the curriculum because the school is located inside Disney World? Was this Christian school (located in Smyrna, Georgia) somehow associated with Disney World (located in Orlando, Florida) as part of a financial payment/repayment to/from the school? Is this not an example of socio-economic bias? Of harrowing injustice on a three-year old? Was this the sum of the assessment on which the school based its decision to retain her for another year in K-3?

I glared at the woman, prayed for her and for the Christian school that would do such a grievous intellectual injustice to a child, withdrew my daughter, and collected myself with the dignity of the wronged.



Fillmore, W. L. & Snow, C. E. (2000). What teachers need to know about language. ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics Special Report. 5 Week 2 – 09/01: L1 and  L2 Reading (Online Meeting)

Oh, My Goodness! A Literary Find!

I teach English composition/rhetoric to college freshmen and sophomores (and to upper level students who delay taking the course(s): English 1301/101 and/or English 1302/102).

One of the short stories we read and analyze is “Black Men and Public Spaces” by Brent Staples. I love, love the anxiety Staples raises in the reader with his first sentence. I have taught this personal narrative so many times that every word, word order, and phrase are ingrained in me.

I was going through “Poem-a-Day” sent to me by Poets.org. As I read June Jordan’s poem, the two literary texts collided in the most profound way. Before responding to the questions below, consider the different perspectives of the writers, linear or nonlinear (parallel or divergent).

One is a poem; the other is a short story. One is written by a woman; the other is written by a male. One speaker was born in 1936, and the other was born a generation later in 1951. One wrote the piece in 1986 (and refitted it to the current title in 1987), and the other wrote and dedicated the piece in 1976. One is still alive, but the other passed away in 2002. Both lived in New York City at one time or another. Both were college professors. One married early and was divorced; the other married late and still married. Both were impacted by trauma during childhood.

In the meantime, please read both of them and share thoughts and interpretation.

  • Which of the two pieces mirrors the other?
  • What is the tone of the one written by Staples?
  • Is this surprising? Unnerving?
  • What is the tone of the one written by Jordan?
  • Is this surprising? Unnerving?
  • Are there any expectations of tonal association for a male as opposed to a female? What are they?
  • Whose vocabulary causes empathy? (The presumption is that there is empathy.)
  • What are the effects of each piece of writing? What reactions does it elicit?
  • How does each speaker react to those who see him/her as a danger to their safety and alter their behavior?
  • How does each speaker resolve the situation of fear coming from/perceived by people of the other race?
  • Are the speakers affronted by the unsavory behavior?
  • Do the speakers have any right to react?
  • How should the speakers react to societal rejection/perception?
  • Is the anger/reaction of each speaker justified?

These are generic but in-depth questions. I leave the rest of deeper and challenging questions for in-class conversations.

Please read “Black Men and Public Spaces“.

“I Must Become a Menace to My Enemies”

June Jordan

I will no longer lightly walk behind
a one of you who fear me:
                                     Be afraid.
I plan to give you reasons for your jumpy fits
and facial tics
I will not walk politely on the pavements anymore
and this is dedicated in particular
to those who hear my footsteps
or the insubstantial rattling of my grocery
then turn around
see me
and hurry on
away from this impressive terror I must be:
I plan to blossom bloody on an afternoon
surrounded by my comrades singing
terrible revenge in merciless
I have watched a blind man studying his face.
I have set the table in the evening and sat down
to eat the news.
I have gone to sleep.
There is no one to forgive me.
The dead do not give a damn.
I live like a lover
who drops her dime into the phone
just as the subway shakes into the station
wasting her message
canceling the question of her call:
fulminating or forgetful but late
and always after the fact that could save or 
condemn me

I must become the action of my fate.

How many of my brothers and my sisters
will they kill
before I teach myself
Shall we pick a number? 
South Africa for instance:
do we agree that more than ten thousand
in less than a year but that less than
five thousand slaughtered in more than six
months will

I must become a menace to my enemies.

And if I 
if I ever let you slide
who should be extirpated from my universe
who should be cauterized from earth
(lawandorder jerkoffs of the first the
                   terrorist degree)
then let my body fail my soul
in its bedeviled lecheries

And if I 
if I ever let love go
because the hatred and the whisperings
become a phantom dictate I o-
bey in lieu of impulse and realities
(the blossoming flamingos of my
                   wild mimosa trees)
then let love freeze me
I must become
I must become a menace to my enemies.

Copyright © 2017 by the June M. Jordan Literary Estate. Used with the permission of the June M. Jordan Literary Estate, www.junejordan.com.

June Jordan

7 Reasons Writing a Book Makes You Impressive


Actually, Brian’s exact title is “7 Reasons Writing a Book Makes You a Badass”

I borrowed the heading and subheadings (1 – 7 below) of this post from Brian A. Klems of “Writer’s Digest” whom I have admired and followed for years.

Like him, I have always been a nerd. Those who went to high school with me will attest that I always buried my face inside any book I carried with me. I read up to 130+ books in one year. I also read the dictionary at that time.

During those high school days, I read Chinua Achebe (and he influenced my writing), Wole Soyinka (loved his use of impressive vocabulary in his poems), Obi Egbuna, Buchi Emecheta (she made me realize that a Nigerian woman could be an author), Ben Okri, Flora Nwakpa (the first Nigerian novelist, influenced my writing and made me realize that a Nigerian woman could be an author), Ken Saro-Wiwa (loved his style), Ekwechi Amadi, Cyprian Ekwensi, Chris Unabi, Uwem Akpan, Elechi Amadi, J.P. Clark, Remi Adedeji, Samuel Ajayi Crowther, Dan Fulani, Duro Ladipo, Nkem Nwankwo, Kofi Awoonor, Nadine Gordimer, and many other Nigerians and Africans.

Out of that love of reading came the love of writing. I have been working on several genres of literature for what seems like decades. Hope has never left me to release them one day soon. From Mr. Klems’ experience (and I think most authors will agree with him) that–
1. Writing a book is hard.
2. Editing is painful.
3. Knowing when you are “finished” is impossible
4. Cold-querying of agents is scary.
5. Rejection is everywhere (and yet you still carry on).
6. Getting paid for your work is harder than ever.
7. Accomplishing a dream is rare—and awesome.

Some of the attributes of being a writer/an author are discouraging; others are invigorating. One important aspect is that passion must move me and you to create.

We all have a book inside of us. Finding the time to write is impossible, but we need to find that time. Make the sacrifice, forge ahead despite the frustration and the lack of support from people, but you should never give up.


MOOC’ing about: Re-Introduced for COVID-19

I had written this blog post years ago when MOOC (massive online open course) was the rage. Almost every higher education institution wanted in on it, and I was a non-traditional student at the time. The instructor required us to research MOOC in 2013.

Technology razes like California’s wildfire. Sometimes we grapple with it and win. Sometimes we watch in helplessness as it razes old programs on its way into the next new one. Other times, technology’s newfangled and ubiquitous nature dazzles us, infects us with promises of mission and millions of dollars, and we are infected.

There are many reasons for my involvement in MOOC, but the most essential of them is that MOOC, an online course, allows participants like me access to unlimited course materials distributed and dispersed across the web, according to Kaplan and Haenlein

A form of distance education, MOOC provides a positive experience for online users and allows for connection and collaboration. With continuous use, one can hope to acquire a high level of technology savviness in one month of intensive journey.

Over the last decade or so, certain technology terminologies have arrived and were muddled up in what they are and how they can be used. Prior to the 2013, most people never paid attention to the distinctions between MOOC and other delivery concepts.

After listening to Dr. Micahel Balfour’s clarification of Classifying K-12 Online Learning, I gained a clearer picture of the different types of online/distance learning classifications as they apply to the K-12 arena so that I can adopt them for the appropriate need. At that time, MOOC was a new area of involvement that led to certification, so it was imperative to be proficient in terms unique to it and in the use of pertinent terminologies.

Technology adoption spreads to students and colleagues. Therefore, one must concern himself or herself with the specific nature of its correct identity. MOCC allows a person to be involved in major categories of online/distance learning and/or teaching: virtual, cyber, hybrid, and blended. These methods of learning and teaching appear too close to be concerned about them. There are more than thin-hair differences. Jacob Richman, an epistemophilic problem solver, explains the distinction between cyber and virtual. Gar Driesen explains the difference between hybrid and blended learning.

I enrolled in a virtual class at the University of West Georgia and started my doctoral degree at a cyber school (was the distinction the school insisted on making) simultaneously, but I had to withdraw from the cyber school when it became obvious that brick-and-mortar universities would not accept the paper on which my degree and credits would be written.

Fast forward into 2020, and the coronavirus upended education. Face-to-face learning and teaching may have swapped placed with MOOC. Whereas face-to-face was the acceptable and revered method of instruction, MOOC took the place of a twice-removed cousin. COVOD-19, unbeknownst to it, has revived the near-dead online instructional platform.

For a learning platform to be accepted as blended, face-to-face and online activities must occur simultaneously as opposed to hybrid which does not have to happen at the same time. My department at the University of West Georgia offered several courses in a hybrid format.

Before COVID-19, I had argued that the blended method would be most beneficial for elementary and middle school (junior high) students. As education is forced to grapple with balancing health priorities and instructional priorities in light of curtailing the spread of the virus, health issues will take centerstage before academic matters.

As a result, of the four methods that have arisen over past decades, the blended and the hybrid formats will be sacrificed. Our understanding of cyber has shifted tremendously, and almost no one uses the word cyber and learning in the same breath in reference to how to teach students. The virtual (online) format is overshadowing all other learning systems for all levels: elementary, middle, high, and post-secondary.

Stay tuned for an update on what is happening to MOOC as a result of COVID-19, the once-dying online instructional method.

Thank you, Thank you!

Welcome! Are you here because you received my email from MailChimp and have been redirected to this site? I thank you.

Before I hit that publish button (I really do not push that button. Kindle, Amazon, IngramSparks, etc. will do that), I would like your assistance to determine if any changes should be made to any of the book(s) I am poised to release this summer.

Please visit Surveymonkey to share your opinion and give helpful suggestions. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

From Theory to Literature: Henry James

Henry James wrote the quintessential novel and buried it in the most dizzying quagmire. Many turn-of-the-century authors admired his method including Joseph Conrad. James drizzled intricate structures, sustained irony, and the sophisticated manipulation of point of view in The Turn of the Screw. Unlike Conrad’s novels whose settings journeyed all over the world, James remained locked on the British social and economic scenes and layered the social-economic structure from the wealthiest (the owner of the mansion) to the poorest (servants). This short paper intends to apply the Marxist Literary Criticism to Henry James’ Turn of the Screw as it explores important concepts in that theory: “from theory to literature.”

One of the notable Marxists, Friedrich Engels, would probably applaud James for attempting to hide his own opinions for the betterment of art. As cultured and as highly educated as James was, he attempted to bring about other realities: culturally, economically, socially, and gender wise, far removed from his own circumstances. On the contrary, Marxism would decry such an attempt. “Marxist literary criticism maintains that a writer’s social class, and its prevailing ‘ideology’ (outlook, values, tacit assumptions, half-realised allegiances, etc.) have a major bearing on what is written by a member of that class.”

According to Peter Barry’s interpretation, instead of Marxists seeing authors as primarily autonomous “inspired“ individuals whose “genius“ and creative imagination enables them to bring forth original and timeless works of art, the Marxist sees authors as constantly formed by their social contexts in ways which they themselves would usually not admit.

Applying The Turn of the Screw to Marxist criticism (or vice versa), it is imperative to acknowledge the significance of social and economic factors. As indicated earlier, the story is populated by the lower class: Mrs. Grose and an assortment of hired help, living or dead. Despite her attempt to see herself differently as above all the others in the house, and by virtue of her not being a relation, a guest, a mistress, nor a servant, the governess is still in the lower class because she received financial benefits.

Marxist theory sees progress coming about through the struggle for power between different social classes. There was a stream of conflicts in the novel: between the governess and Miles, between the governess and Flora, between the governess and Mrs. Grose, and between the governess and the ghosts. Additionally (and according to Marxism), one social class always exploits the other. Miles’ uncle has economic, social, and political advantage over the governess and all the people working for him, even if the power is from afar. The machination he put in place and set in motion churns in his absence to ensure that all parties contribute to the success of his home management and his peace of mind.

The result of this exploitation, according to Marxism, is the “alienation” of the worker (the governess) who performs “tasks whose nature and purpose ‘she’ has no overall grasp.” The governess finally confesses to not wanting to prolong “the fiction that I had anything more to teach him.” She had no overall grasp anymore as Miles’ teacher, caregiver, and protector. She knew she no longer possessed the skill necessary to teach Miles. She has been, according to Marxism, “deskilled.”

To Mrs. Grose (who is below her class by education, station, and by birth), the governess enjoys the conflict tremendously by becoming sarcastic, insulting, and by using tacit invectives. Class dynamics and conflicts are very prevalent and critical in Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. Sometimes the references are implicit. Other times they are immersed in dialogue. Even though the governess is of Victorian gentility, she is heavily exploited and is thrust into extremely demanding expectations and roles which cause her alienation and her ultimate breakdown.

Although Karl Marx and Engels themselves did not put forward any comprehensive theory of literature, other Marxists did. Marx and Engels’ views, Barry notes, seem relaxed and undogmatic: “Good art always has a degree of freedom from prevailing economic circumstances…” Henry certainly created a piece of good art in The Turn of the Screw.

Forming an Advisory Group

Every author must seek fresh eyes and fresh opinions. Along the journey of creating literary pieces, I have leaned on the knowledge and kindness of those who traversed the route to writing and publishing success. See the blog post about people I call “My J-Crew”.

I am seeking to hear voices other than mine. After all, authors do not buy (or should not buy) their own novels and nonfiction books. Readership is diverse, so should this group, which will “make recommendations and provide key information.” Calling it an advisory board takes away the familiarity factor, makes it too formal, and takes out the community.

Picture from Performink

The Why

The group is a forum to connect and share thoughts about my forthcoming novels, nonfiction books, their titles, covers, plots, and characters analysis. The books the group will discuss have not been released yet, but they are sliding toward publication. Whereas I am not Oprah Winfrey and cannot insist that members sign waivers and comply with exclusivity, I seek to protect my intellectual creations under the Copyright Law.  

The When

After years of critiquing the works of other writers and having them do likewise to mine, I need to add another dimension to the groups I belong. I need an advisory group made up of trusted people who possess diverse and unique skills and background. I am at the juncture in my writing life when it has become clear that mine can no longer be the solitary voice in choosing the best title for my works among the ones I brainstorm. I do not intend to ask the group to invent wheels. I might need to capitalize on their knowledge of emerging issues and challenges, unique perspectives, and other bookish (serious) maters that I alone can handle no longer.

The How (Structures/Policies)

The advisory group will be standing/continuous, but postings will be sporadic. It will comprise of people of different nationality/national origin, diverse values, cultures, educational background, career, life states, who come together and provide critical anchor (a light house of a sort) that guide during my brain freeze so that I must arrive at rapid changes. More specifically, it will consist of a community of readers, writers, teachers, artists, health care practitioners, attorneys, financial planners, students, and people in other walks of life.

I am the self-appointed chair/administrator. However, the point of the group is that I recognize that I need help. Therefore, there will be co-administrators and moderators. The duties of these will be open to discussion. Not all members are expected to post all the time, but members are needed to post most of the time to provide the much-desired feedback so that decisions are not based on insufficient data.

My Hope

I am thrilled at this prospect, which is a huge leap! It is my first administered Facebook group. I hope to choose those who care for my well-being as I care for theirs. Since I do not have the financial reward to pay back, I offer reward in kind (same type of deal as I receive) and/or reward in token (my published book[s]). The group receives the satisfaction of being on the ground level of the release of different genres.

I imagine that different opinions might not blend. My hope is that we agree to disagree, and we disagree while holding on to our self-respect and respect for each other. I hope I do not lose anyone due to strife or disagreement.

Some information was obtained from Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD, Authenticity Consulting, LLC.

Knee-deep in “It”

I am mired in “it”. I am surrounded by how-to/craft books from wise and generous editors, literary agents, published fiction authors, and poets. I am devouring books from Toni Morrison, Jacqueline Woodson, Michael Donko, Amanda Foody, etc., to channel their success into me. The pile of such books is up to a toddler’s height.

The Maud Marks Library welcomes me when it opens and lets me out just before it closes so that I can race to the church in the evening several times a week. I need prayer stacked from the ground to heaven to get me through what I hope will be THE LAST EDITING. Is there such a thing? There is no such thing to a mother hen like me who has sat on her “eggs” for years, even decades. Is a book ever edited with completion, or does an editor just sigh and release it with the utmost reluctance?

I have altered and blue-penciled Daughters of the Soil so many times that I can hear it screaming at me, “LEAVE ME ALONE, YOU OBSESSED WOMAN!” I will leave it alone one day soon, maybe this summer. Release it! Bid it adieu so that I can edit the sequel, Mourning Satin.

serenityprayer  books_stackedtoheaven    books_stackedtoheaven2

My books of poetry will receive attention next.

Openings Continue to Challenge Seasoned and New Writers

We all should be Charles Baxter.

Openings always challenge most writers, seasoned and novice. However, Charles Baxter captures it with profound precision. He ensnares the reader with many strategies. The first strategy is the use of curiosity that focuses on the sense of smell. He attracts the reader with the wonder of what Detroit, Michigan, smells like. He forces the reader to linger in the first paragraph for the sole purpose of satisfying that curiosity. He releases the reader to move with radiant joy but with a backward glance. The reader accepts this release for the purpose of moving with reluctance to subsequent words so that he/she can discover much more.

Baxter employs, not just the sense of smell, but he employs imagery in a no-holds-barred style. The first paragraph is riddled with an imaginative journey. Each word draws the senses and packs a punch. To conjure a smell that takes up residence in one’s head is pure animation. The reader envisions such a forceful incident and smells the acridity of the industrial “chuffing”. Another succinct imagery brings forward “knitted beret, and his dreadlocks flapping in the breeze” to cause the reader to concentrate on characterization without making it into an undue chore.

Baxter draws in the reader with the juxtaposition of the familiar and the unfamiliar. He compares Anders’ native Sweden with the unfamiliarity of Detroit. In the narrator’s homeland, that sort of smell (smoke from natural wood-burning) heralds the arrival of winter and calls forth all things natural. On the other hand, in Detroit, the only thing natural about the smell is that it permeates the city during summer when Anders arrives. The smell also arrives in the form of industrial pollution of a gigantic proportion; the acridity is artificial.

Another strategy that Baxter employs that entices the reader is the matter of coincidence. Baxter pits the protagonist’s arrival into the city with the opening of the novel: two entry points, one external (character arrives) and the other intrinsic/internal (the opening of the novel). Both showcase arrivals of a sort, a double entendre of a sort.

Baxter snags the reader from the onset and builds tension by stacking nuanced occurrences in incremental actions and with subtle interpretations between the cab driver and the Swede. Both of them are foreigners who are poured into the “melting pot” that is America, but each character attempts to understand the other. Failing to do so, each character must release the challenge and shrug it off, as Anders finally had to do when he perceived himself misunderstood.

By their nature, short stories are economists. They force writers to weigh every letter, every word, every phrase, and every sentence for the maximum impact. Baxter weighs the impact of each word before he lays it down like a bricklayer who stacks bricks and mortar with precision. Compliance with word count is the albatross any writer must get off his or her neck. Baxter has conquered that responsibility. “Better to start with a small mystery and build up to a bigger one. The truth about a situation is always big enough to sustain someone’s attention,” says Baxter.

In an interview that appeared in Medium, one of Random House’s many media outlets, Baxter admits to that technique of wanting to capture the reader from the onset. “I want to create a condition with an element of mystery in it. I set up a question that I and my readers want to have answered…You don’t have to set a Chevrolet on fire or have someone murdered on the first page to get the reader’s attention.”

Even when he uses the passive voice, he does not detract from the gripping effect of the opening scene. Rather, the passive voice adds poetry to the opening and lessens the accusatory nature rampant in the active voice. “What he first noticed about Detroit and therefore America was the smell,” very lyrical as opposed to “Detroit’s smell greeted him…” or “Detroit’s smell slapped him in the face…”  Another passive voice uses two linking verbs (“seems” and “was”): “The smell seems to go through his nostrils…,” and, “But here it was midsummer…”

We all should be Charles Baxter when we craft our openers. If we cannot achieve that impossibility, we should study his style even as he himself studies Flannery O’Connor and other literary giants.

—–Frances Ohanenye lives in Houston and teaches composition at Houston Community College. She also teaches different literature courses, and one of them is through the Dual Credit Program at Mayde Creek High School.