National Writing Project

Book Review: Where Do I Go From Here? Meeting the Unique Educational Needs of Migrant Students

By: Stephanie Vanderslice
Date: December 11, 2008

Summary: Where Do I Go from Here? examines ways teachers can make the most of each day with the "invisible" students of rural migrant farmers by creating educational experiences that will serve all children long after they leave the classrooms.

 

If you have ever felt at a loss when encountering a migrant student in your classroom, overwhelmed by the many challenges involved in teaching such a child, and poorly equipped to meet his or her needs, then I have the perfect book for you.

Karen S. Vocke's Where Do I Go from Here: Meeting the Unique Educational Needs of Migrant Students , a slim volume that is nonetheless packed with resources, is sure to become the go-to guide for teaching children of migrant families. More than that, though, it is a compelling book for anyone in the classroom today.

Reading Vocke's book, I am reminded of how Dr. Spock often said that he had written Baby and Child Care to reassure that desperate parent at two in the morning with his book in one hand and a sick child in the other, that they did, in fact, have all the instincts they needed to take care of their children.

Vocke is similarly reassuring for teachers who worry about their ability to meet the special challenges presented by migrant students, gently pointing out that classrooms do not need to be completely reinvented to address the pressing needs of this population.

In fact, a classroom where the best practices in literacy learning already bloom will provide a rich soil that may only need some targeted amending in order to provide an optimal environment for migrant students. Where Do I Go from Here? provides teachers with very specific guidelines for making these changes.

Temporary Neighbors

In agricultural areas common to rural America, migrant workers comprise "a significant portion of the labor pool," Vocke points out, thus making "breaking the cycle of poverty and limited educational opportunity for the children" of these workers especially important for rural educators.

Still, even in rural areas, "very few people really know much about these temporary neighbors in their communities," and such a lack of knowledge makes it easier to "segregate them than to incorporate them into the system."

Vocke addresses this information deficit by first offering a rich description of the lives of migrant children and their families, including the many obstacles they face.

Migrant students are, according to Vocke, "one of the most educationally deprived populations in the United States. Only 56 percent will receive a high school education." Additionally, due to the transitory nature of their family's occupation, "most do not stay in any given school long enough to make lasting friendships," and as a result "tend to be ostracized due to their cultural and linguistic differences."

Because of these students' educational disadvantages, teachers tend to lower their expectations and "contribute to these students' failure by asking too little of them."

Very few people really know much about these temporary neighbors in their communities.

Undaunted and with a clear social justice perspective, Vocke counters these expectations with the underlying assumption that "we need to believe in our students and their unlimited potential despite the challenges they face in their lives." Once this assumption is established, the rest of the book helps teachers tweak many of their already effective instructional practices to build a classroom and curriculum responsive to migrant students.

Culturally Responsive Teaching

Perhaps one of the most useful sections of the book is the one on language and learning that includes essential information on second-language acquisition that will assist any teacher struggling with meeting the challenges of teaching English language learners. Vocke reminds us to be patient because written language proficiency "is a slow process; oral proficiency can develop in two years but academic language proficiency can take a minimum of five."

Included here as well is a valuable overview of the process of second-language acquisition that anyone teaching in our increasingly multilingual society will find relevant, an overview that Vocke then builds upon by offering literacy-enhancing teaching strategies for each stage.

Where Do I Go From Here? also provides a step-by-step guide to creating culturally responsive lessons for the classroom, with particular attention to helping teachers evaluate materials and literature in order to provide unbiased cultural perspectives.

Culturally responsive teaching involves honoring the traditions and knowledge of members of a culture. In the case of migrant workers, then, it is important to honor their essential knowledge of agriculture and the land.

Family is also a crucial part of the lives of migrant children, so it is especially vital for teachers to make the effort to reach out to the parents and families of migrant students, including setting up parent programs tailored to their needs and work schedules and honoring the contributions of these families. Where Do I Go From Here? provides a number of suggestions and templates for fostering home-school connections and achieving this goal.

Vocke's work stands out too, in its honoring of teacher expertise by spotlighting educators throughout the book, allowing teachers confronting these challenges directly in their classrooms an opportunity to speak.

For example, Lynn Welsch, a teacher from Fennville Public Schools and a Third Coast Writing Project teacher-leader, contributed the chapter, "How to Use Technology with Migrant Children." Welsch not only describes the benefits of using technology with this population, but also demonstrates how to use digital storytelling in the classroom in the context of migrant student experience. Her detailed guide to digital storytelling, from the explanation of the core elements of this genre to the "digital story graphic organizer" in the appendix, is just one more way this book can enlighten the work of anyone teaching today.

The appendices themselves, finally, add another significant bonus, as Vocke provides an abundance of resources and, of course, an exhaustive bibliography.

In Vocke's own words, her book seeks nothing less than to help teachers "empower one of our most marginalized populations so that they are able to participate as equals in the educational system." To some, this may represent a monumental, overwhelming, even elusive task. Based, at its heart, on a belief in the ability of migrant children to reach these goals and in the ability of concerned, committed teachers to help them do it, Where Do I Go From Here? will, I believe, achieve what it sets out to do and, in doing so, make a difference in the lives of rural children and educators everywhere.

About the Author Stephanie Vanderslice is a writer and creative writing teacher at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway, where she directs the Great Bear Writing Project. Her work has appeared most recently in Knowing Pains: Women on Love, Sex and Work in Our 40s (WingSpan Press, 2008) and Mothers in All But Name (forthcoming), as well as on her blog, wordamour.wordpress.com.

She also likes to shake things up once in a while in the creative writing world, through essays in College English, Profession, and other journals, and in two books, Can It Really Be Taught? Resisting Lore in Creative Writing Pedagogy (Heinemann, 2007) and Teaching Creative Writing to Undergraduates: A Resource Guide (Fountainhead Press, 2010).

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