Classroom Caffeine

A Conversation with James R. "Jim" King

November 17, 2020 Lindsay Season 1 Episode 2
Classroom Caffeine
A Conversation with James R. "Jim" King
Show Notes Transcript

Dr. Jim King talks to us about planning, relationships, and the art of teaching. Jim is known for his work with sociolinguistics, the history of literacy instruction, and his continuing work with children. Dr. King is Professor Emeritus at the University of South Florida.

Lindsay Persohn:

Education Research has a problem. The work of brilliant education researchers often doesn't reach the practice of brilliant teachers. Classroom caffeine is here to help. Each week, I invite a top education researcher to sit down and talk with teachers about what they have learned from years of study. This week, Dr. Jim King talks to us about planning relationships and the art of teaching. Jim is known for his work with children. He's also known for his work in the field of socio linguistics and the history of literacy instruction. Dr. King is a professor emeritus at the University of South Florida. For more information about our guest, please stay tuned to the end of this episode. So pour a cup of your favorite morning drink. And join me your host, Lindsay Persohn. For classroom caffeine research to energize your teaching practice. Jim, thank you so much for your time today. Thank you for for joining me, for this episode of classroom caffeine.

Jim King:

Happy to be here.

Lindsay Persohn:

So I have a couple of questions for you. The first one is from your own experiences and education, share with us one or two moments that inform your thinking now,

Jim King:

I've been thinking about things like that since since you contacted me and I thought about it in terms of events, and also places. And one thing that occurred to me is kind of backwards, but the burden of planning to teach has been playing on my mind. And I think that sometimes I got carried away with planning in kind of Byzantine ways, you know, learning centers and learning games and things to keep kids busy. I think those are good things, I'm not knocking them. But I think a lot of times they got in the way of my teaching literacy. So I think planning is good. I think you get yourself organized, but only so that you might know what you might do. And by that, I mean, you need to be ready to let go and go with there's like these the waves of energy and excitement that happened when you're with groups of people, including young kids. You know, by virtue of the fact that you convened a group of humans together, that's going to create an energy that permeates the group. And if you're real careful, and you listen closely, and you watch, you can capture that you can ride that wave. And while I have my plans in my back pocket ready to roll with them. I think I'm crazy. If I don't contour what I was thinking I was going to do either chuck it all together or figure out in the moment, a way to do what I want it to do that pays respect to and uses that energy because i think i think it's there. I think it's always there. If there's any kind of relationship between the group leader and the kids. I think I think we get sold this bill of goods of teachers that you know, good teachers plan really good and good teachers get everything done, and good teachers are effective and efficient. You know, there's that whole movement that we went through that teacher effectiveness movement. I think that did a number on us. I'm and I think you know, I think maybe some of us needed it. But I think the lasting effects of the teacher effectiveness movement is that we think of teaching only in terms of getting a list done. And, you know, there's this this part of me that that mourns, I guess and wishes that I had paid more attention to the artfulness of teaching. And you know, this idea that you've got probably 30 Kids these days, 20 to 30, something like that captive. And you've got what I claim, in my experience is ritual space. You've convened a group of people in your presence in your honor. And you're like the shaman, and they're waiting for you to do some Voodoo with them. And you bring out a demo sheet. New Oh, is that all it was? Oh, gosh, I so hope for something more engaging something that would capture me for a while and take me away for a while and we have known this stuff. Lindsay since campfire days, when when the orator captured everybody's attention. With that story, and told a story that captured everybody's attention, little kids know this stuff. Shirley Brice Heath's research with the Trackton kids in the main town kids. Her story about TV has stayed with me since 1982. When I read the book, that, you know, TV could interrupt a group of African American adults who are standing in ritual circle space, tug at somebody's pant leg, and be good enough at the oratory that he could interrupt adult behavior and capture their attention with his stories, which I thought was amazing. That's a good that's a good order. However, that thinks you're in a in a main town classroom where he would interrupt the teacher to tell his story. Not so good. So there's all of that stuff going on, in, in how I think about teaching these days.

Lindsay Persohn:

I love what you're saying here about the energy in a classroom and sort of the art of teaching or the the magic that can be wrapped up in that energy. And I think it is so important to draw our attention back to that because it does feel like a lot of the magic, so to speak in classrooms has been been drained that positive, energetic kind of atmosphere. It does die a bit, when would you pull out a ditto sheet? That's for sure. So thank you for sharing that.

Jim King:

Yeah. So .....thank you for depressing everybody, right?

Lindsay Persohn:

Well, no, I I actually I see it as a hopeful message, because I think it gives us an opportunity to reclaim some of that magic.

Jim King:

I that's what I want more than anything. But why waste our time? Right.

Lindsay Persohn:

Right. Right. So on that note, would you please share with us what you would like teachers to know about your research?

Jim King:

Yeah. I had a chance to think back on that to get ready for this. And I think primarily, my research is social. I am a socio linguist who gets the chance to study literacy. I'm interested in how people take up literacy as a tool. And thank God, somebody named Brian Street came along to write up and describe how I believe because I think he Unfortunately, he's no longer with us. But when he was alive, he captured. I think, real clearly how I have been working with literacy for the last 40 years. I'm amazed by and and always interested in, how do people use this tool called literacy to get work done. And I'm amazed by preschoolers doing it. I'm currently working with a group of post secondary researchers. And we're interested in how adults in community colleges, programs in petroleum technology use literacy. So it's the same research. If I'm in a product, petroleum technology, ritual space, what is it that the the participants do with literacy to make knowledge happen. And I think it's very different in these different places. Like, we have this generalized notion of what's needed to be successful in college. And most of that is Gen Ed's stuff. You know how to how to read the classics, how to write an essay, how to synthesize information, blah, blah, blah, blah, but but there are these other spaces in community college in particular, that use literacy differently. Literacy to do literacy to get things done, literacy to know, literacy to be in charge. And so the tool of literacy is used in subtly different ways. And I'm really interested in figuring out, you know, career and technical education has kind of gotten a bum rap. So that puts it in that marginalized space that I gravitate towards gay, they're marginalized petroleum tech is my original ad, I'd rather work in the margins than in the mainstream, it's more fun for me. And so petroleum tech is calling out, let's there might be money for grants. A good thing with anyways, it's social, my research is social. And I think that recognizing that and recognizing that it's kind of like a geeks approach to literacy. I'm not really interested in teaching people to read, I think they'll do that. Anyways. I'm interested in uncovering the ways that they might use literacy to promote themselves to get stuff that they want, and then they'll learn to read. I mean, I can help them with that. It doesn't take much to learn to read.

Lindsay Persohn:

What I think you're giving us here is an authentic reason for learning literacy skills. So the learner, right, right. So we begin with the why, rather than the what of literacy learning

Jim King:

Absolutely. Yeah. Otherwise, it doesn't seem to be very important to the person we're asking to do all this stuff. Right? My nephew, Carson was repeatedly at risk for reading and writing at Pride Elementary School. Yes, he said the name of the school because I want people to know... This is a really good school in New Tampa. He didn't learn the way the teacher wanted him to learn. He's very active, very boy. And so he you know, he was failing. And his mother, who is a special educator, sais what the hell do I do with this, because it's really hard for parents to, you know, to participate in the social without the academic kinds of push. So Carson and I met for a couple of years, a couple times a week, once a Once you know the systems, right? week. And essentially, we had to rediscover why reading was an okay thing to do. We read a lot of volcano books and dinosaur books. And he could read. He was just low in terms of why should I and then he passed the test. He passed the reading test and a three. And so he was off the, you know, the at risk for And fortunately, his mother had the good sense to put him into a magnet school that looked at literacy as to "do" a high tech magnet school. And he's he's on the honor roll every semester. So I think there's evidence for what I believe. I think there's no I'm only proving it with anecdotes. But all of my experience suggests that if you can find a trigger, or the this the social space, that creates the "why" as you put it, learning to read is not that hard, unless you have some kind of a congenital or, you know, a neurological kind of a blockage. It's just not that hard. Yeah, the systems are pretty minor. Graphophonics are not that tough. I wouldn't spend all of elementary grade teaching phonics, no. Yeah, I think social is really important.

Lindsay Persohn:

I love that idea. And again, I think you're you're bringing up points that are often lost in the grand conversation of education these days. So I think that's that's really important. So I've one more question for you, Jim. Given the challenges of today's educational climate, what message do you want teachers to hear?

Jim King:

There's only one. One is the only message and it is that you must be an advocate for kids. This is not optional. This is not on your good days or your bad days, you get to decide. Every day you have to fight for kids. Kids are marginalized in our culture, they're property, they don't have any rights. We have not signed on to the United Nations a bill of rights for children. Children are sold. Children are lost. Those are the extreme examples. But in the everydayness of our consumer life, the most attention kids get is what toy Am I going to buy them so they'll be happy while I do something else. Now. Teachers are the mediators for kids lives and kids aren't property for kids or potential kids are the magic that's going to pay your your Social Security when you get older. I don't know how to make it more practical. I know, I know, there's current challenges in terms of our culture, I get that I am besieged by it. I know there are current challenges in terms of how education is supposed to manage itself every day, with the lack of magic that I referred to earlier, the dryness of curriculum prescribed to you. I get that. But I maintain and you know, this is maybe the musings of a retired person I don't know. I maintain that if you keep the kids in the forefront, that everything else resolves itself, it has to the kids are the most important thing and I am not a namby pamby care machine. I'm not like that. This is a very reasoned and and research driven call to action. We have to be that person for kids. Nobody else is doing this work. And it's important work and caring isn't enough. You got to be actualized. You got to be political. You got to tailor make your lessons you've got to tell people they're full of shit when they talk differently than you believe. You have to call them out. Because kids get sold out every day for for things like ticks on charts and things like that. It's not okay. I think that advocacy is so important. And, you know, I've pitched most on message to you in terms of little ones. But I think the same could be said about any person of any age, that's put in a student role. There's something about that trust of a learner and a mentor, that that should push the mentor towards that advocacy stance towards their clients but same teacher prep. You know, I make fun of teacher education all the time. We're just, we're care machines with ponytails on top of our heads, because we can't get a real job. You know, I don't believe that. But at the same time, if my colleagues are acting at all, I just love kids. No, get out there and do something for kids loving them isn't enough; get get off your butt. I think it's really important. And I think we have to do that stuff for kids and for ourselves.

Lindsay Persohn:

And for the future of the world, right.

Jim King:

My Social Security.

Lindsay Persohn:

That's right. That's right.

Jim King:

Yeah, I think we're raising them up. Now. I mean, if you don't see the urgency in that message, you're not home.

Lindsay Persohn:

Jim, you've always given me so much food for thought and just a fresh way.... And, yeah, and you always give so much heart in your message and, and some realistic things for us to work with here. So thank you for sharing your ideas today and for sharing your good work with teachers, and also sharing some inspiration for the path forward in a real meaningful kind of way in schools.

Jim King:

You're very welcome. It's my pleasure, Lindsay.

Lindsay Persohn:

Dr. James, our King has enjoyed a long career as a researcher in sociolinguistics cognitive theories of language, oral history, reading and writing development, and he is a developer of the accelerated literacy learning program. With training and vast experience in emergent literacy and early literacy, Jim is known particularly for his continuing and prolonged work with children. His work with gender and teacher identities resulted in his book uncommon caring learning from men who teach young children. He has published in reading research quarterly, the Journal of literacy research, the Journal of reading, reading, teacher, linguistics and education, qualitative studies of education, qualitative inquiry, narrative, teaching and teacher education, theory into practice and taboo The Journal of culture and education and in many edited books, Jim has worked at the University of Pittsburgh, Texas Women's University and is currently a professor emeritus at the University of South Florida. For the good of all students, good research should inform good practice and vice versa. listeners are invited to respond to our guests. Learn more about our guests research and suggest a topic for an upcoming episode through this podcast website at classroom caffeine calm. If you've learned something today or just enjoyed listening, please subscribe to this podcast. I raise my mug to you teachers. Thanks for joining me.