Classroom Caffeine

A Conversation with Marjorie Faulstich Orellana

October 26, 2021 Lindsay Persohn Season 2 Episode 12
Classroom Caffeine
A Conversation with Marjorie Faulstich Orellana
Show Notes Transcript

Dr. Marjorie Faulstich Orellana talks to us about shifting our mindset to see how kids contribute to their families and communities, and how kids are doing much more in their lives than we ask of them in schools. Marjorie is known for her work in the areas of language brokering, cultural modeling, pedagogies of the heart and mind, immigrant youth and families, and power dynamics around literacy and gender. Dr. Orellana is a Professor in the School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA, where she serves as Associate Director of the International Program on Migration.

To cite this episode:
Persohn, L. (Host). (2021, Oct 26). A conversation with Marjorie Faustich Orellana. (Season 2, No. 12) [Audio podcast episode]. In Classroom Caffeine Podcast series. https://www.classroomcaffeine.com/guests. DOI: 10.5240/5FE1-378A-4CB9-4E69-9DB4-5

Lindsay Persohn:

Education Research has a problem. The work of brilliant education researchers often doesn't reach the practice of brilliant teachers. But the questions and challenges from teachers practice sometimes don't become the work of education researchers. Classroom Caffeine is here to help. In a new episode every other week, I talk with an education researcher or a classroom teacher about what they have learned from their work in education, and what questions they still pursue. In this episode, Dr. Marjorie Faulstich Orellana talks to us about shifting our mindset to see how kids contribute to their families and communities, and how kids are doing much more in their lives than we ask of them in schools. Marjorie is known for her work in the areas of language brokering, cultural modeling, pedagogies of the heart and mind, immigrant youth and families, and power dynamics around literacy and gender. Dr. Orellana is a Professor in the School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA, where she serves as Associate Director of the Center for the Study of International Migration, and teaches in UCLA's Urban Schooling and the Teacher Education Program. For more information about our guest, 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. Marjorie, thank you for joining me, welcome to the show.

Marjorie Faulstich Orellana:

Thank you so much, Lindsay, for having me. I've listened to some podcasts. And I think what you're doing is absolutely wonderful.

Lindsay Persohn:

Thank you so much. I appreciate that. So then, you know, I have a few questions for you today. From your own experiences in education, will you share with us one or two moments that inform your thinking now?

Marjorie Faulstich Orellana:

Sure. And having listened to a few podcasts, I anticipated this question, and I decided I want to cheat a little. But even the fact that they call it cheating, I think is significant and I'll come back to that in a second. When I look back on my experiences, both as a student, a learner, as a child, as a teacher in a third grade classroom for 10 years, as a student, a graduate student, and as a student of life, you know, I think of two types of experiences that stand out. One is these moments, especially in school, when my experiences outside of school just didn't fit in the boxes that schools prescribed or assumed, especially when I was sort of got the message that what I knew wasn't right or wasn't valued or wasn't appreciated, or just didn't fit with the normative notions of what school cared about. And I really can anchor it in one particular memory just to give an example. I am an ethnographer and I know the value of just how telling moments can stay with us. So this was a moment in first grade and I just remember getting a paper handed back, it was a phonics page and there was a picture of an American flag and we were supposed to write what the word was. And I wrote f-l-a-g-g, and there was a big red X. And I remember staring at that, and then going home and looking at my street sign, which was Flagg Circle, f-l-a-g-g. And of course, I get that there's no way the teacher could necessarily have known that I lived on Flagg Circle but there's this way that school communicates there's a right way there's a wrong way, those big red X's, and when it doesn't fit with a person's own experiences, you're left with this, this disjunction. You know when other more generally, I come from a large family, I have seven siblings so I got lots of messages in school about what's normative about families and, and the ways, the subtle ways it's communicated kind of raised eyebrows, oh, you have seven siblings, what is considered normative. And now I'm speaking as a white woman, who was raised in a working class white, lower middle class environment. So I didn't have all the disjunctions that other people, people of color must experience in so much more dramatic ways, constantly being told your experiences don't fit with what the norm is of school. So that's the one set of experiences and then, you know, conversely, I think about powerful learning moments, places when I didn't feel worried that my experiences didn't fit, that I was going to be judged or shamed or told to stay inside some box or lines that I didn't even know why they existed. But when I had the freedom to be creative, to be expressive, to attune with my own inner sense of self and wonder and curiosity, to get in touch with and anchor myself in what I know, and what I care about, and what I want to know, and those moments more often than not happened outside of school. And and, and this is evident in my Teacher Ed classes as well. I often ask people, think back on something you learned as a child that you love to do. And almost invariably the things they remember, learning that they loved, were things they learned outside of school. There are some rare moments in school, I think, especially around the arts and creative writing, there are some moments when I certainly felt like my, my knowledge and skills mattered and they connected up and I was being nurtured for what I wanted to learn not being judged for what I didn't know. So though, that's what I think of, and the fact that they call it cheating, I think is significant, because that's it. I'm thinking, What's the right answer to the questions? Am I answering it the right way? What does the teacher want? Instead of what do I want to share with you? So...

Lindsay Persohn:

That... I think that's such a great point to highlight, because you're certainly not the only cheater who's been a guest on the show. You know, there are there are people say, I'm going to sneak in three moments you asked for one or two, or they'll say, I'm going to talk about when I was a student, and when I was an educator, you know. So I think that that really highlights how important it is to ask open ended questions. And to give people a little bit of time to think about what their response might be, because, you know, there is no right answer to many of these questions. But I think you make such a great point that as, as learners who grew up in American schools, and I'll speak to that, because that's what I know, we are often looking for, what was that right answer? What was it supposed to be? What am I supposed to say? Or what is my answer supposed to sound like? You've also brought up some other points that really got me thinking here. The idea that most often, or quite often, our biggest learning doesn't happen inside of schools, I think that's a sad fact. Because if you think about the number of clock hours that students spend in schools versus the amount of time they have left for sort of the rest of their lives, I think that's a really, a really sad way, you know, to think about how we spend time in schools. And also this idea that you're really juxtaposing situations where you felt judged, versus when you felt nurtured. And I think that that's such an important point for us to bring forward into the learning we do in schools as well. So I'm hoping I'm thinking you're going to talk a little bit more about that, in response to this next question. So Marjorie, what do you want listeners to know about your work?

Marjorie Faulstich Orellana:

Yeah, well, there's much I'd like to share, because I've been working in this business for 30 years, first 10 years as a primary school teacher, and now 20 years in higher education, working with graduate students, undergraduates, teacher education students. So but, you know, just in the interest of time, I would say, my work has been very much a response to what I just shared about my own educational experiences and looking for a different way forward, in two ways, or two principle ways. One is this notion of connecting school to life, recognizing the richness of everyday lived experiences, seeing the powerful learning that happens in homes, in communities in, in the work kids do, and in play. And a primary example, much of my work was built around the practice of language brokering, which is I would define it as the work that the children of immigrants do, using their knowledge of their home language, and in the US, at least English but it happens all around the world, so using their knowledge of more than one language to read, write, listen, talk, and do things for others. I used to say to do things for their families and then I realized, oh, no, kids are doing things for teachers, for doctors, for lawyers, for store... They are, and this is work that they are contributing something of value to society and yet it's so often unrecognized, largely invisiblized, not valued, not appreciated. Now, this is not you know, I did not grow up language brokering. I did not grow up in a multilingual community. I was the middle of eight children. So I sometimes think that's where the interest is, as well mediating and brokering between different perspectives. Because I think that's an important part of this work. Kids learn so much from this practice. They're doing such sophisticated things. Translating is, one linguists referred to it as the most complex event in the history of the universe. So to translate and interpret for others, or to broker or mediate information requires social skills, linguistic skills, cultural knowledge. It requires listening deeply, intently, and trying to make meaning across these different perspectives, especially that brokering between different worldviews. So a lot of my work has been just showing the complexity of what kids do when they broker language. And then identifying ways that schools could better recognize, value, validate, and build on these practices, help to sustain in a culturally sustaining way, thinking of Django Paris and Samy Alim's work on Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy, this is a practice that could be sustained, and it could be expanded because it could be connected to the kinds of things schools say they value. So that's one area of work is really looking at learning and out of school contexts and connecting it to school. Beyond language brokering, I'd say I'm doing that in the work study, I'm conducting of the pandemic, like what a family's learning as they do, do school at home and do and change their social practices and processes. The rapid way, all of this has been transformed, there's tremendous learning going on. And yet, what we hear on the airwaves is learning loss, learning loss, learning loss. Well, there we're only talking about narrow forms of learning that happened in school that may be lost. But there's so much other learning happening now. And could we see it? Could we recognize it? Could we build on it? The second way, I think, my work is a response to my own experiences of feeling so shamed and judged and told to stay in a box and be a good girl and get the right answer and... is, is to resist that. To resist the standardizing pressures of schools, and to try to create dynamic, engaged learning environments where people really are connecting with their own inner wisdom and that includes embodied wisdom, like, What do you feel? What do you know, in your body? What do you know from your experiences in your, the place you live in, in the family, or you're part of? In the community you participate in? What do you know, and what are the buds of development that you want to nurture, thinking of Vygotsky's notion of nurturing buds of development that can grow in different ways, not just toward a singular, standardized, normative end. And so I do this in different ways. I've designed and run an after school program that serves kids in a large public school in Central Los Angeles and we bring undergrads out to play and work with kids and connect with their interests and nurture buds of knowledge. It's outside of school. It's an after school context. So we're freed from some of the constraints of school. But I still think we could create more spaces like this, even within schools. I guess the third thing about my work is more methodological. I'm an ethnographer. I'm not formally trained in anthropology, but many people think I'm an anthropologist, and that anthropological lens is about thinking about schools as cultural spaces as, where cultural practices happen, where cultural values are enacted and reinforced, often in mundane, but very sustaining, powerful ways. So to see those practices and to see outside of our own perspective to make the familiar strange, which has happened right now during COVID. Right, everything that we used to think we knew has been upended, and we're seeing schools and learning in new ways. We've had to learn new ways. And as an ethnographer, my ethnography hat, I think is really helpful for my teaching, and for the teaching, and the training that I do with teachers. When I put on my teacher hat, I find that my mind kind of leaps to what's missing, what's wrong, what's needs to be corrected or fixed. You know, that's the automatic knee jerk reaction. When I think as a teacher, I think my job is to point out what's wrong and help fix it, you know, and it actually creates anxiety in me like, oh, maybe I'm not doing a good job if my students are making this kind of mistake, and I need to somehow fix it. But when I put on my ethnography hat, I say, oh, rather than focus on what kids aren't doing or don't seem to know, can't seem to do, what if I looked at what they are doing, what they do know, what they can do, and really see that and then nurture and support and build that? It's just a slightly different orientation. I still, my role is still to guide and nurture but it's not to judge and shame and fix. And, it's a continual learning for me. I think we have that teacher voice so ingrained in us, most of us, many of us from K-12 schooling. And so I have to constantly check when my mind leaps to judging or noticing what's missing or wrong, stop, breathe, check myself and ask different questions.

Lindsay Persohn:

I know for me, I find or at least I hear feedback from my family that that teacher mentality certainly carries over to home as well. When I when I point out, you know, the the way that things aren't done exactly up to my standards, so that that, um, that goes both ways. I think that school mentality carries over into the home world as well. So I want to pick back up on a couple of things you said, Marjorie, because I think this is so important. This idea of shifting our mindset, just a bit so that we are looking for the good in our students and the good in the world we live in rather than sort of always approaching things with what's wrong, and how do I fix it kind of mentality, because that is certainly a very stressful world to live in, when you when you feel you kind of bear the responsibility of fixing everything around you instead... And not only is it stressful for a teacher, but certainly it's stressful for for students as well, when they think they're always being approached in this way where they're being judged for something they may not have done correctly, or something they may not have quite mastered yet. So the idea, I think that, you know, working an after school program to think about how we can use embodied experiences, and we can embrace what students know, that sort of asset based approach to learning, I'm wondering if you might share with us a little bit more about how some of that might translate into a school day? Because I think if you know, thinking about you know, my days in the classroom, if I were hearing you say this, I would think, I would love to do that. I just don't know how with the tensions that I face in my own school climate. So any tips or any ideas about how we get there?

Marjorie Faulstich Orellana:

Yeah, yeah. No, it's such an important question. Because it's, it's so much easier to do when the conditions are supporting. And I'd been, I spent 10 years as a primary school teacher in one of the largest schools in this country, they were 2700 kids and a K to five school, it was a multitrack year round school where three classrooms should two classroom spaces, and we're juggling and moving. So I understand that there are so many constraints on what we do. And that was before the test phrase was so, you know... I actually took a lot of freedom as a teacher to do what I wanted to do. I taught kids Mayan math and, and we put on plays and theater. And that wasn't part of the curriculum at all, but we had more freedom then. So I recognize now that there's less freedom, and there's more of a concern of this test prep. I do think that when we build on what kids already know, and do, and help make those connections, we may be able to still meet those, those demands of the larger society. Ramon Martinez, he's at Stanford now he, he talks about how kids are actually doing more than what's what the standards require. They're already doing this creative work, we just have to get a little better at seeing it and helping them to see what you do when you, when you speak for your mother in a, in a parent teacher conference, or in a teacher.... Look at what you're doing. Notice how you chose particular words or you, you made strategic choices about what you would translate and why. That, those are the same things we want to do as writers when we're making choices as writers, so we can just help to make the connections for kids so they see that what they're already doing has value. And I think that can happen in lots of small ways throughout the classroom. And it, it just requires that slight shift to, you know, instead of seeing what they did is wrong or misguided or it needs to be correct, look for the things that can be leveraged, that can be bridged that can be built upon. The other thing is, teachers don't have to be the expert on everything that kids know. You, there's no way you can know all that kids are doing, all that kids know. Even popular culture keeps changing. You know, there's new video games, there's new this and that. So you can invite kids to be experts on their own lives. Tell us about what... and then the teachers role becomes more one of drawing out the knowledge that kids already have, and facilitating the sharing of it, rather than having to be the one who has the repository of knowledge. So I think there's some some shifts like that. I also think we can create some spaces within the school day, where there is more room for freedom and creativity and pursuing one's own interests. I think COVID has taught us that. We've reduced the actual hours that kids spend doing tests in school quite a bit, in most cases, I think to accommodate to the situation we're in, the hours of actual on line learning were reduced. But you know, and all this time was suddenly freed up to do what? And I know that the kids in the project I'm working on pursued all kinds of interests. They looked up things on YouTube that they wanted to learn. They, they use the resources at their disposal to learn things they wanted to learn. And I think we could create more space for that in school too. We could give homework assignments that connect to, to what kids are already doing outside of school, instead of some, another discrete task that's more like a school task.

Lindsay Persohn:

I really appreciate that you brought my question back to the idea of shifting our mindset. Because I think you're right, as soon as you said that kids are already doing more than what we're looking for, a light bulb went off in my head to say, you know, you're absolutely right. But I think that sometimes, the standardisation of schools has really given us tunnel vision, so that we are only looking for the things we're looking for. But if we are able to kind of regroup and really be present there with kids, and what they're saying and what they're doing and what they like about the world they live in, and what they don't like about the world they live in, and what they want to change, I think then to give teachers as facilitators, thinking of teachers as those who design the structures that allow kids to take on a topic they want to learn about, while still meeting the standards, while still teaching them those particular thinking skills, or even content skills that are related to things that they are interested in. Interest comes up quite often in, in the conversations I have for the show, most recently, Earl Aguilera talked about interest and how we really tap into what kids want to know, and how we then bring that into the forefront of the school day. And it also reminds me of a conversation I recently had with Gay Ivey talking about motivation, and the way that kids bring their motivation for reading to school. And the fact that she she highlighted that kids don't read to get better at reading. That is a school driven purpose for practicing reading. Kids read because there's something they want to know about, or it's a book all their friends are talking about and I think that really relates to what you're saying this idea of shifting our mindset that reading doesn't have to be about reading to learn about how to read, it can have a much more authentic purpose. I'm not saying that knowing how to read isn't important, because obviously that is sort of the key to unlocking those texts. But it's not the motivation for reading. And I think that that's that's such an important shift in the way we think about teaching and learning in schools.

Marjorie Faulstich Orellana:

Right. So the one quote that most stands out to me, that I quote about teaching is by Ranciere. It's this notion of, teaching is about creating the conditions for the desire to learn to emerge. If we can do that, anything is possible. It's not always easy to create the conditions for the desire to learn to merge, especially if you're trying to get kids to want to learn things that school thinks is important, and they don't. But sometimes there are ways even to do that, to create the conditions for them, the desire to learn to emerge and to connect what kids want to learn with what schools think they should.

Lindsay Persohn:

That is a really wonderful quote. And that, I think also is often a shift in mindset to think about how do we instead create the conditions rather than sort of forcing these particular topics that, you know, 10:15 in the morning, we're going to be studying this particular thing, and I'm going to just beat you over the head with it until you achieve what we have deemed as mastery. So again, sort of taking a step back from that and thinking about what authentic learning really means. And then how do kids use this knowledge they're developing in school in their real lives. And I love that idea of also bridging the gap between what they learned in their their real lives and bringing that into a school setting. So Marjorie, given the challenges of today's educational climate, what message do you want teachers to hear?

Marjorie Faulstich Orellana:

Well, I'm going to pick up on the word climate and state that we are living in a time of tremendous turmoil and uncertainty about the future. Climate change. The evidence for it is growing by the day as we look at floods in Germany and China and the heat waves, fires, tornadoes. We're also living in a time of tremendous polarization, divisiveness, confusion, turmoil. We're not very good at listening to people whose experiences are different than ours. We're not very good at seeing the value in different ways of knowing and doing and being. And yet, I think if we're going to have any chance of increasing the survival of human species and other species and for saving glaciers and coral reefs and and not experiencing more loss, more turmoil, more upheaval, or any more than, or at least limiting the losses, then I think schools have to really rise to the challenge. And to me, that means nurturing the buds of development that can help contribute to new visions for the future, that can help kids to learn to listen to each other, to hear different perspectives, to build really build the capacity to listen, to think together, to work across differences, which are all the things I studied with kids who are language brokers. They're doing that all the time. They have to. Try to explain how this lawyer understands and thinks to their mother who thinks differently. How to make this make sense, in the service of doing things for your family, for your community. I feel so impassioned about this, this is not a time for business as usual. This is not a time for just putting little blinders on and saying what do we need first graders to know for second grade? What do we need this generation of people that we are nurturing today to know and be able to do in 5, 10, 20, 30 years as the planet goes through tremendous changes? What are the capacities we need to build? Not what are the steps along some normative notion of development to some presumed clear, fixed endpoint, because none of us know what the world is really going to be like in 10 or 20 years.

Lindsay Persohn:

That also very much reminds me of shifting our mindset, right? We have got to get away from thinking that we know what the destination is for kids in school because we you know, there, there are kids who graduated now that I taught in kindergarten, close to 20 years ago, you know, they're doing jobs I could have never envisioned. So, I think you're absolutely right, we have to prepare kids to listen, to think together ,and to innovate new solutions. And that tension to me is that you can't innovate new solutions, when you're only focused on very rigid kinds of ideas about how you move through the progression of learning.

Marjorie Faulstich Orellana:

Right. Yeah, yes.

Lindsay Persohn:

I appreciate that.

Marjorie Faulstich Orellana:

I guess I want to, you know, add to what I said about, it's not just climate change. That, to me is one of the most pressing issues of the day. But the world is changing so rapidly, everything is speeded up, technological innovations, new developments, every year, every so this idea that we really can prescribe some normative path... it just doesn't fit with today's world. We need people who can be flexible and adaptable and respond to what comes up. And kids are doing that all the time, every day. It's just then they go to school and get told no, what you know, from playing those video games, or helping your family or visiting your family in their countries of origin. That doesn't matter. That's not important. What matters is this discrete set of skills. So if we can change that message and say what you know, does matter. What you are doing is valuable. And schools can be a place for sharing and expanding everyone's repertoires of practice.

Lindsay Persohn:

Thank you so much for that, Marjorie. I think that those are really powerful words that do help to reframe the way we think about education in schools, and how we bring in the rest of the world into those classroom spaces. So thank you so much for that. I also want to thank you for your time today. And thank you for your contributions to the field of education.

Marjorie Faulstich Orellana:

Well, thank you. Thank you for making time for this conversation. Thank you for the work you're doing in bringing these, these conversations out into the world. Because more than anything, I don't think I have answers. I just have some some thoughts to add some my little "granitos de arena" as I like to say and there is no I don't know what the translation in English would be but, little contributions... little but to a much larger conversation that we all can be having and building together. So thank you, you're certainly doing that.

Lindsay Persohn:

Oh, thank you so much. Dr. Marjorie Faulstich Orellana is known for her work in the areas of language brokering, cultural modeling, pedagogies of the heart and mind, immigrant youth and families, and power dynamics around literacy and gender. Her research centers on the experiences of immigrant youth in urban schools and communities, including experiences of young people as language and cultural brokers for their families. Marjorie is the author of several books, including Translating Childhoods Immigrant Youth and ultures, Immigrant Children and rans Cultural Spaces Language, L arning and Love, and a 2019 c -edited volume, Language and C ltural Processes in C mmunities and Schools, B idging Learning for Students f om Non Dominant Groups, and m st recently Mindful E hnography Mind, Heart, and Ac ivity for Transformative So ial Justice. She has authored or co authored more than 50 ar icles that have appeared in an array of interdisciplinary jo rnals including American An hropologist, Harvard Ed cational Review, Social Pr blems, Anthropology and Ed cation Quarterly, Reading Re earch Quarterly, Journal of Ea ly Childhood Literacy Re earch, Language Arts, Am rican Journal of Education, an Linguistics and Education. Ma jorie has received many aw rds for her teaching and re earch, and has recently been na ed as a 2021 Fellow of the Am rican Educational Research As ociation. She's the past pr sident of the Council of An hropology and Education. Ma jorie served as a bilingual cl ssroom teacher in Los Angeles fr m 1983 to 1993. Dr. Orellana is a professor in the School of Ed cation and Information St dies at UCLA where she serves as Associate Director of the Ce ter for the Study of In ernational Migration, and te ches in UCLA's Urban Sc ooling and the Teacher Ed cation Program. For the good of all students, good research should inform good practice and vice versa. Listeners are invited to respond to an episode, learn more about our guests, search past episodes, or request a topic or conversation with a specific person through our website at ClassroomCaffeine.com. If you've learned something today, or just enjoyed listening, please be encouraged to talk about what you heard with your colleagues, and subscribe and review this podcast through your podcast provider. As always, I raised my mug to you teachers. Thanks for joining me.