Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Invisible Culture Discussion Question

"Even well meaning, dedicated teachers can make it difficult for students to learn if they don't know who their students are and the cultures of their students' communities." If the previous statement is true, does it follow that only teachers from within the community should teach children of that community?

I agree with the above statement. However, I don't think that only teachers from within the community would be effective in reaching out to at-risk students. Bilingual or multilingual teachers, for instance, could also be successful in enabling students' literacy development and socialization. Those teachers may be more sensitive to cultural differences than their monolingual counterparts (of course, there may be exceptions...).
That being said, I think schools should promote diversity in their hiring practices.

How could teachers facilitate students' learning and success?

Regardless of the teacher's linguistic and ethnic background, she should be "willing" to work with disadvantaged students. How, you might ask?

She should be open-minded and make a conscious effort to learn about other cultures. She should learn a foreign language and visit the country of the target language.

She should hold one-on-one conferences with her students (and the parents, maybe) in an attempt to understand "why" those students are having difficulty in school.

She should also encourage students to write personal stories, which may be used as a means of getting to know the students and creating in-class discussions.

She should also create an environment in which students feel free to discuss and write about their home literacies, their lived experiences in their communities, and their future goals. I think it is important that classroom assignments be meaningful so that students can participate in such activities.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Reformulating Identities in the face of fluid modernity, by Castanheira et al.

As I was reading this article, I thought about poststructuralist approaches to understanding identity and how they very much agree with Castanheira et al's "concept of multiple identities, or identities as constructed and mutable" (p. 173). Post-structuralists conceive identity as an unstable, multilayered entity, which is constructed and reconstructed by social structures (such as family, friends, classroom, schools, etc.)

Similarly, the study conducted by the authors revealed the ways in which "ethnolinguistically" "diverse 5th graders in a small southern California town learned to become students in a local group, both in the class and in the school community as a whole". This is significant as it demonstrates how different circumstances may require individuals to take up different roles, which are constructed "in and through" individuals' interaction with their social environment.

What this means is that identity is not something individuals create on their own. As pointed out by the authors, "individual-collective relationships are central to constructing an identity within a local group...and [as such] identity is a social construct that is negotiated for and by the members of the group" (p. 175).

The authors also point to "the pattern of action developed by the teacher--inviting students to use their prior knowledge and experiences to participate in classroom activities, which help define ways of being in that classroom."

Friday, June 19, 2009

Ways with Words, Epilogue

"Academic success beyond readiness depends on becoming a contextualist who can predict and maneuver the scenes and situations by understanding the relatedness of parts to the outcome or the identity of the whole" (p. 352).

1) Do you think standardized tests help achieve this goal? Why? Why not?

2) Do you think standardized test scores are indicative of a student's potential for success in school? Should there be an alternative to such tests? What would that be?

3) What specific methods would you consider using in helping a child whose skills do not meet the criteria set forth by the school system?

4) Think about your experiences as a high school student, especially your teachers' expectations and the types of assignments you had to do. What kinds of tacit messages were being sent to you by your school? How did they agree with or contradict the hidden norms established by the administration at your work place?

5) What is the purpose of schooling? Is the primary aim to teach basic skills or to foster critical thinking? Is it to prepare citizens for future careers or to inspire academic achievement?

6) Apple (1979), Giroux (1980), and Pinar (1974) noted that schools reproduce social inequality by creating a divide between students who come from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

Do you agree with this statement? Why? Why not?

7) Assume that you are a curriculum specialist who has been assigned the task of creating a new curriculum for the children of townspeople, Roadville, and Trackton residents. They will all be attending a small liberal arts college in the Piedmont Carolinas. What skills would you teach them? What would be the rationale for your decision to teach those skills? What factors would you take into consideration in designing this curriculum? What problems do you envision yourself encountering? How would you implement that curriculum in the classroom?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Ways With Words, Chapter 5

Story Telling in Roadville

Topics for women's and men's stories are gender-based.

A good story must include direct quotations and be factual, detailed, and free of any exaggeration.

A true story is didactic: it has a "lesson with a meaning for the life of all" (p. 155), which usually derives from a rigid Christian norm from the Bible.

Stories help establish "group membership and behavioral norms" (p. 184).

Always tell the truth: emphasis on conformity to "expected" norms and doing "the right thing"

Parents read stories to preschool children; emphasis on recitation and memorization"

Fictive stories...are not accepted as stories, but as lies, without a piece of truth" (p. 158)

Story Telling in Trackton

"A good story is "junk, which "includes exaggeration and creatively fictionalized details surrounding the real event and the outcome may not even resemble what indeed happened" (p. 166).

"Stories often do not have a point; they may go on as long as the audience enjoys the story teller's entertainment" (p. 186).

Adults do not read to young children. Stories help build "individual strengths and powers" (p. 184)

Story tellers use "gestures, dialogue, sound effects, and emotional evaluations" (p. 172).

Questions for Discussion

1) How much of Heath's recount of the literacy practices of Roadville and Trackton residents is representative of your perception, or observation, of the literacy practices of ethnically and linguistically diverse students in your teaching environment today?

2) In what ways might differences in the literacy practices between the two communities lead to problems in a classroom setting?

3) What can schools and educators do to negotiate or resolve such conflicts?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

On Ethnography, Chapter 5

Key issues:

Language Socialization:

1) Oral language--"particularly in terms of lexical, syntactic, and generic productive skills"-and written language--"both its interpretation and and production" are interdependent and they should both be the focus of ethnographic research. For instance, students coming from multicultural and multilingual environments may be accostomed to using a variety of linguistic forms in their speech. Such syntactic forms might be at odds with linguistic norms and standards established by educational institutions, although, as Heath and Street state, "all language learners can understand language more complex than that which they may produce."

2) The linguistic features of teacher talk vs. student talk, as well as the "nature and extent of verbal interactions between children and caregivers" and how these conversations help enrich students' vocabulary and diversify their sentences.

3) "Familiarity with language socialization literature" is also important as it helps the ethnographer to modify or revise his or her research question.

4) "The success of individuals in academic achievement, professional employment, and civic life tends to correlate with fluency in a wide repertoire of language structures, uses, and modes"

Social Theories of Literacy:

This ideology attempts to understand the social and political factors that influence literacy practices, mainly the ways in which schools perpetuate the divide between at-risk students' beliefs, attitudes, and linguistic background and those set forth by schools.

Question: What can educators do to help at-risk students, those coming from linguistically and socioeconomically disadvantaged bacgrounds, to succeed academically? What types of intervention strategies can be implemented so that those students continue their education? How can tutors and teachers work together to facilitate those students' language and academic socialization?

Ways With Words, Chapters 1-3

Sometimes I think empirical research can be too limited or simplistic in its approach as it tends to draw conclusions based on explicit, quantifiable data. However, ethnographic research brings into light the invisible, the unknown, and the unique--one that cannot be generalized across a larger population.

This is indeed an important aspect of Heath's ethnographic research, as it focuses on literacy practices and events in regional or local settings as opposed to literacy in general. This is what makes her work "unique" because it gives the reader an insight into the "particular" ways in which members of Trackton and Roadville tell stories, read, write, and talk about texts.

Heath's work, as an ethnographic study of literacy practices of two different communities, enables us--doctoral candidates--to see the importance of cultural factors in shaping literacy practices of a group of people.

Heath's ethnographic research localizes and particularizes literacy events and, as such, helps us see how differences in the ways in which members of Trackton and Roadville participate in literacy events are cultural, rather than cognitive. In other words, the particular ways in which the locals tell stories are specific to that culture; they serve the needs of the inhabitants. They should not be attributed to individual differences in understanding and learning about literacy.

I found her writing very accessable and her description--narrative--of literacy events vivid.


1) How would Heath's narrative look like if she conducted the same ethnographic research today?
What would she include and exclude? How different would her interpretations be and how would they compare to a narrative of another researcher who conducted the same study?

2) How much do our literacy practices at home compare to those in institutions? How does social class play a role in the divide between our home and institutional literacies? How can we negotiate the two?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

On Ethnography, Chapter 3

Key Issues:

1) Ethnography involves a continuous interaction between field notes and literature review. It is also "dialogic between existing explanations and judgments (held by scholars, outsiders, or insiders) and ongoing data collection and analysis."

2) Ethnographic fieldwork "involves a series of choices" ranging from surveys and focus groups to spatial maps and network analysis.

3) Literature reviews should "ensure that current work builds from existing knowledge" and they usually require the ethnographer to do a comprehensive and "interdisciplinary" reading of and synthesizing various sources relevant to the topic under study. In a literature review "never cite references that you have only found in someone else's bibliography."

4) Ethnographers "do not begin their research with a clearly defined research question or ...hypothesis."

Question: How does this concept fit in with the the authors' statement that "we study something because we know something"?

Equally important is defining unknown terminology in an ethnographic study. For instance, as stated by the authors, "any study examining bilingual and multilingual speakers should clarify what is meant by terms such as translation and interpretation."

Reflection and Question:

As I was reading this quote, I could not help but think about ESL speakers and bilinguals in this country and how some native speakers of English erroneously, or perhaps intentionally, use both terms interchangeably, not realizing that they are not synonymous with each other. They refer to bilinguals as ESL speakers or visa versa. This issue ties in with Kumaravadivelu's statement about the Chinese, Indian, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese "all thrown into a single cultural basket labeled Asian."

How would native speakers of English react to being referred to as Catholic when in fact they are Protestant?