Woman of the Year embraces alternative sentencing

Judge Bettina Borders, of Bristol County Juvenile Court, was named 2012 SouthCoast Woman of the Year. She made “contributions to the community as a justice and activist,” according to the New Bedford (MA) Standard-Times. Her work includes making use of alternative sentencing programs such as Changing Lives Through Literature.

Read reporter Natalie Sherman’s full article about this amazing Woman of the Year.

Is someone in your community changing lives for the better? Tell us about that person.

To submit brief comments, use the comments link at the top of this post. To submit longer comments, or to include images, email me at cltl@umassd.edu.

We look forward to hearing about the remarkable, and perhaps under-recognized, people in your communities.

–Nancy E. Oliveira, Editor


A Glimpse of India: Some Musings on Literacy from a Fulbrighter

The Author, Maureen Hall, and Dr. Bal Ram Singh at Kuruom Vidyalaya

The Author, Maureen Hall, and Dr. Bal Ram Singh at Kuruom Vidyalaya

Dr. Maureen P. Hall is an Associate Professor of Education at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. She received her Ph.D. in English Education from the University of Virginia. She has taught at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth since 2003 and was awarded tenure in 2009. Before teaching at the higher education level, Dr. Hall taught for ten years at the secondary (grades 7-12) level in the public schools of New Hampshire. Dr. Hall also has a Masters in English and American Studies from the University of Virginia, a M.Ed. in English Education from Keene State College in New Hampshire, and a B.A. in English from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Since 2005, she has published nine peer-reviewed articles and has two forthcoming (2011) books: 1) Writing from the Inside, (Equinox Publishers, U.K) with co-author Olivia Archibald and 2) Transforming Literacy, (Emerald Insight Publishers, U.K) with co-author Robert P. Waxler. Her recent research focuses on cognitive-affective learning and the integration of contemplative practices for deepening learning. She has been awarded a Fulbright-Nehru Senior Scholar award for research in India in 2010-2011. 

As the recipient of a Fulbright in India, I have had many incredible learning opportunities over the past seven months, interacted with so many professors and students in India, and gained new perspectives on the power of education for transforming individuals and whole cultures. At the heart of my investigations was always literacy. I wanted to learn more about the educational system in India in terms of the similarities and differences to education in America. I wanted to find out how literacy learning was promoted and/or hindered in India.

One school where I was invited to give some lectures on my work was at the Jaipuria School in the city of Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh, India. Anjali Jaipuria was the head of this school. Anjali and I spent quite a bit of time together engaged in many conversations about the state of education in both India and America and also how to improve education globally. As a part of these dialogues, I told her that I was writing a piece on literacy in India for the CLTL blog. “Well,” she responded, “the person who asked you to write that probably assumes you will write about illiteracy in India.”

Anjali then told me, “Literacy would mean different things to different people, depending on what their perspective is. One looking at the grand scale of prevalent illiteracy in India would study literacy.” I explained to her that the person who started CLTL and the blog for CLTL was the most passionate about literacy of anyone I have ever known. That is Bob Waxler.

For my Fulbright work, I was involved with a rural school in Uttar Pradesh called Kuruom Vidyalaya School.  This is a village school that was started by Dr. Bal Ram Singh from UMass Dartmouth. This school, which can be found online at:  http://www.kuruomvidyalaya.com/ is located about twenty minutes from the small city of Sultanpur.  At this school, there are now grades 1-9 now with girls and boys, and there are a total of 12 teachers in the school.

My Fulbright research utilized Robert Frost’s poetry as the content through which I would bridge theory-to-practice from the Super Accelerated Learning Theory (SALT). This theory was developed by Professor Pandit Ramsamooj; he is affiliated with UMass Dartmouth and teaches for the Center for Indic Studies. Each new classroom practice I created grew from one of the five parts of the Super Accelerated Learning Theory.

SALT, this learning theory, is quite large and overall, it is a whole-brain learning theory. I distilled what I considered to be the most important five parts of the Super Accelerated Learning Theory. The five theoretical elements of SALT which I am continuing to develop, are as follows: 1)Visualization and mental practice are used in novel ways for retention of information and understanding.; 2)Multiple intelligences are privileged in the learning process.;3)Patterns and mnemonics are utilized for improved learning and retention of that learning.; 4)Learning through yoga and meditation. An “altered state of consciousness” is facilitated for teaching and learning concepts, in part through the simultaneous activation of the left and right brain. Student–teacher rapport is highlighted. (Yoga/Meditation, etc…).; and 5) Learning through story or narrative. Since SALT pedagogy is underpinned by the idea that information must be continuous, narrative forms are privileged to help students understand connections between concepts and to retain information and ideas. It is important to note that these are not the only parts of the theory.

My goal with the Kuruom Vidyalaya teachers was to model or teach the teachers each of the five theoretical parts and how those parts “translated” into classroom practices. The teachers would then be able to modify and use these practice with their students to improve student learning in their own classrooms.

The Learning Curve

Interaction. I worked to model interactive learning for the teachers, as I believe that learning through the self is the only real way that people learn. I now have an enlarged understanding of the Gurukula system in India, as it privileges learning though self and the importance of the student-teacher connection. The Gurukula system is where the guru or teacher would live and work with students, and the student-to-teacher ratio was very small. One of my revelations in India was that learning only happens through the self.  It seems to be a very simple idea, but I believe it has great importance in literacy learning and in all learning. When one increases self-knowledge, one becomes more open to the ideas and strengths of others in the world. I agree with the Indian sage Sri Aurobindo’s idea that “nothing can be taught.” Having aligned myself with some of Sri Aurobindo’s notions about education, I also have to say that I also believe so many things can be learned. All teachers anywhere in the world can do is to provide effective learning opportunities for students. The learning happens in each student–as each student makes meaning of new knowledge in light of prior experiences.

Getting the teachers to learn through interaction involved the navigation of one of the steepest learning curves Kuruom Vidyalaya. I came to understand through my observations at other universities and schools in modern-day India that the standard teaching and learning mode is singular: the teacher talks and the student memorizes. I was attempting to change this paradigm with these teachers.

At this rural village school, they teach three languages–Hindi, Sanskrit, and English.  Although the teachers’ English skills were fairly well-developed, it was still hard for them to understand my accent. I focused on speaking as slowly and clearly as I could and stopped regularly to check for understanding.   I knew it was important to first work on building community with them, instilling in them that it was safe to share ideas within our classroom space. The creation of community is very important for literacy learning. After the initial steep learning curve, the teachers began to enjoy the interaction and started to brainstorm ways to integrate more student-centered and interactive learning in their own classroom spaces for teaching and learning.

As I continued to work with the teachers at Kuruom Vidyalaya, I found new ways to  develop or translate each of these five parts of the SALT theory into classroom practices. In my teacher training modules, I taught the teachers how to “enter” some Robert Frost poems and make both literal and figurative sense of the poems. This “making sense” of the poems had to do with encouraging the teachers to “map” the stories of their own lives onto the symbolic meaning of the poems.  It privileged the fifth component of the SALT theory, which is about learning though narrative or story.

In my work with Bob Waxler, and in our new book Transforming Literacy (forthcoming, May 2011, Emerald Insight Publishers) we develop the idea of “Deep Reading” and its implications for the classroom. There is an older blog posting I wrote on this site from a while ago which develops this idea of deep reading. Deep reading involves sharp focus and reflection. Deep reading is in jeopardy in our modern world because the reflective component is becoming lost or atrophied. For example, the antithesis to deep reading involves the kind of energy and practices a person engages in for posting on Facebook. Deep reflection is nowhere to be found.

Going back to my discussions with Anjali Jaipuria, we talked about the importance of many forms of literature—especially poetry and narrative—as well as music for developing and expanding students’ literacy. When people read, they automatically “map” their own life stories onto what they read. This has been now confirmed in new work being conducted in neuroscience which involves “mirror neurons” in the brain. (See, among others, the work of Mary Helen Immordino-Yang.) Anjali talked about how there are so many versions of literacy in India.  One version privileges only the getting of high marks. That is not the most important kind of literacy.  We agreed that the kind of literacy that is the “deepest” is a transformative kind.  A student reads a piece, and, as the student reads, he or she is shaped by the piece and also shapes the piece.  The best kind of literacy is one that deepens one’s self-knowledge.  It broadens one’s perspective and opens up new fields in which to wander, new territories to navigate.

My work with these teachers and in development of the Super Accelerated Learning Theory continues. Developing classroom practices from all parts of the SALT theory would take more than one lifetime. I will continue to learn more about how literacy learning can be promoted in teaching and learning spaces in both America and India.  I know I will definitely go back to Kuruom Vidyalaya and India many times. There is much work to be done.

Gaining Perspective


Katie Newport is the current Editor of Changing Lives, Changing Minds, and is a graduate student in the Professional Writing Masters Program at Umass Dartmouth.

A few weeks ago, we posted a moving piece of writing by twenty-nine year old Robin Ledbetter. Since the day I opened Robin’s letter and read her story, and since it posted here, I’ve struggled to find a way to “follow-up” on the Changing Lives, Changing Minds blog. Why has it been a struggle? Well, because I felt – and still feel – especially touched by Robin’s story.

Judging by the responses we received after posting Robin’s story, I was not the only one.

This month, Changing Lives Through Literature will celebrate its twentieth anniversary. It was twenty years ago that UMass Dartmouth English Professor Robert Waxler and Judge Robert Kane approached Wayne St. Pierre, a New Bedford District Court Probation Officer, to get his opinion on a theory they had about introducing literature to offenders – the beginning of a program that is now one of the longest running in the Massachusetts Probation Service.

I first heard of CLTL during my first few months as a graduate student at Umass Dartmouth. Then, as merely an appreciator of CLTL and this blog, I assumed understood the program; it’s benefits and accomplishments. Reading Robin’s story, however, made me realize I was missing something that whole time. Sure, I understood the program, but I did not understand the perspective of people who need, and benefit from, the program.

Of course, as is common nature these days, after I heard from Robin, I Googled her name and read about her some more. When I did, I came upon details about that fateful night when a desperate and homeless fourteen-year-old Robin Ledbetter approached a cab driver with a friend and demanded money.

It was the night of my thirteenth birthday.

I tried to imagine what I was doing on that night in 1996. I can’t remember now, but I can only assume it was something that – at the time – I hoped would be unforgettable. It was, after all, the beginning of my teenage years. I’m sure my parents took me out to dinner somewhere. I’m sure I wore a new outfit and got a present or two. I’m sure I was blissfully unaware.

Now, I am aware that on that night, just a couple states away, a girl who was only one year older than me was in desperate need. So desperate, in fact, that she had to steal to survive.

I am twenty-eight years old, now – only one year younger than Robin. I wake up every day in my apartment, I walk my dog, go to school, and I work on my writing every day (something that Robin and I do have in common). Sometimes I go out to dinner with friends and every week I bartend for extra income. I am a long way from where I was when I was fourteen years old. Robin, on the other hand, wakes up every day behind bars – still at the mercy of a mistake she made when she was fourteen, still remembering every detail of that particular night in 1996 and trying to repent.

After I read about Robin, I began to understand not just the “what” of CLTL, but the “why” as well. Robin has found a release in her writing, she has found a way for her voice to be heard, and she has discovered a community of people who want to hear that voice – people who recognize talent, humility, and passion in her words.

Recently, I communicated via e-mail with Harriet Hendel. Harriet and her husband Stan have become like parents to Robin, and her advocates as well – being a part of Robin’s life has, says Harriet, changed theirs. Harriet tells me that Robin feels truly validated that we have recognized her writing, and that she is now the recipient of a PEN Prison Writing Award.

I think, in turn, Robin has become part of what validates the work that CLTL has been doing for twenty years. I look forward to continued communication with Robin and the Hendels, and I am grateful to have been a small part in this chapter of the CLTL story.


Taylor Stoehr Wins UMass President’s Public Service Award

by Bert Stern 

taylorstoehrFrom the window where I write, I can see clearly to my neighbor’s house across the street and, on a good day, the tops of the Prudential and Hancock Buildings.  But this Wednesday, Tam Neville and I found ourselves at the University of Massachusetts Club, on the 33rd floor of 225 Franklin Street, looking out at 90% of the Boston Harbor.  That seemed just the right view for the occasion.  Tam and I, along with Lee Roy Sims and Ron Bradfield  (recent graduates who now serve masterfully as volunteer discussion- leaders for our on-going fall program) were there as guests of Taylor Stoehr.  Taylor was one of six recipients of the President’s Public Service Award, and it seemed that most of the upper echelon UMass administrators were there for the occasion

It was exactly ten years ago when Bob Waxler received the same honor.  Now, once again, CLTL was in the limelight.  There was much to enjoy on this occasion – for example, seeing Lee Roy and Ron, utterly at ease as they always are, chatting away with Winston Langley, Associate Provost and Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs.

But beyond the view and the company stood the ceremony itself, which honored six remarkable people, all of them committed to giving back to the community some share of what had been given to them.  The recipients each had an opportunity to speak, and Taylor spent his share of the time giving a brief history of CLTL and providing a glimpse of the Dorchester Men’s Program.  He did so by briefly summarizing our class of the night before, in which we talked about hitting bottom, and about why some people get back up while others don’t.  That session is a turning point for many of our students, and Taylor let the audience get a taste of that significant point in our curriculum.

taylorstoehr2Taylor ended with some words about what the CORI system is, and how it hangs over the efforts of our graduates to find housing and jobs. Further, today many colleges and universities deny financial aid and even admission to students who have a CORI.  The response to Taylor’s urgent plea for CORI reforms hit a responsive cord with his audience, most of whom applauded his point.

As to us four in the audience who directly or indirectly worked with Taylor, the ceremony was an occasion of joy and pride.  It was good to see so worthy a man as Taylor honored, along with five peers, and it was a proud moment for the program.

Bert Stern has taught in the Dorchester Program for nine years. He is a writer, editor, and poet, a retired English professor and retired chief editor of Hilton Publishing. He and his wife, Tam Neville, co-edit Off the Grid Press, which publishes poetry books by writers over 60.