Monday, January 30, 2012

Heath (1982) - What no bedtime story means

Heath, S. B. (1982). What no bedtime story means: Narrative skills at home and school. Language in Society. 11(2):49-76.

Maintown [is a] white middle-class neighborhoods in a city of the Piedmont Carolina, families of fifteen primary-level school teachers (p.52)

Roadville is a white working-class community of families steeped for four generations in the life of the textile mill. (p57)

Trackton is a working-class black community whose older generations have been brought up on the land, either farming their own land or working for other landowners. However, in the past decade, they have found work in the textile mills. (p57)

Maintown: bedtime stories; children learn/taught what-explanations, classification and knowledge construction, decontextualization, affective comments, reason-explanations (p71)

Roadville: bedtime stories; children learn/taught what-explanations but little or no decontextualization, emphasis on personal experience; no analytic statements or universal truths (p71)

Trackton: no bedtime stories; few occassions for reading to or with children; good storytelling valued; talked about events they witness are rewarded

Learning how to take meaning from writing before one learns to read involves repeated practice in using and learning from language through appropriate participation in literacy events such as exhibitor/questioner and spectator/respondendt yads (Scollon and Scollon 1979) or group negotiation of the meaning of a written text. Children have to learn to select, hold, and retrieve content from books and other written or printed texts in accordance with their community's rules or "ways of taking," and the children's learning follows community paths of language socialization. In each society, certain kinds of childhood participation in literacy events may precedeo thers, as the developmental sequence builds toward the whole complex of home and community behaviors characteristic of the society. [p.70]

Roadville and Trackton tell us that the mainstream type of literacy orientation is not the only type even among Western societies. They also tell us that the mainstream ways of acquiring communicative competence do not offer a universally applicable model of development. They offer proof of Hymes' assertion a decade ago that "it is impossible to generalize validly about 'oral' vs. 'literate' cultures as uniform types" (Hymes 1973: 54). (p.73)

Yet in spite of such warnings and analyses of the uses and functions of writing in the specific proposals for comparative development and organization of cultural systems (cf. Basso 1974: 432), the majority of research on literacy has focused on differences in class, amount of education, and level of civilization among groups having different literacy characteristics. (p.73-74)

"We need, in short, a great deal of ethnography" (Hymes 1973: 57) to provide descriptions of the ways different social groups "take" knowledge from the environment. For written sources, these ways of taking may be analyzed in terms of types of literacy events, such as group negotiation of meaning from written texts, individual "looking things up" in reference books, writing family records in Bibles, and the dozens of other types of occasions when books or other written materials are integral to interpretation in an interaction. These must in turn be analyzed in terms of the specific features of literacy events, such as labelling, what-explanation, affective comments, reason-explanations, and many other possibilities. Literacy events must also be interpreted in relation to the larger sociocultural patterns which they may exemplify or reflect. (p.74)

The culture children learn as they grow up is, in fact, "'ways of taking" meaning from the environment around them. The means of making sense from books and relating their contents to knowledge about the real world is but one "'way of taking" that is often interpreted as "natural" rather than learned. The quote also reminds us that teachers (and researchers alike) have not recognized that ways of taking from books are as much a part of learned behavior as are ways of eating, sitting, playing games, and building houses. (p.49)

In some communities [the] ways of schools and institutions are very similar to the ways learned at home; in other communities the ways of school are merely an overlay on the home-taught ways and may be in conflict with them. (p.50)

Just how does what is frequently termed "the literate tradition" envelope the child in knowledge about interrelationshipsb etween oral and written language, between knowing something and knowing ways of labelling and displaying it? We have even less information about the variety of ways children from non-mainstream homes learn about reading, writing, and using oral language to display knowledge in their preschool environment. The general view has been that whatever it is that mainstream school-oriented homes have, these other homes do not have it; thus these children are not from the literate tradition and are not likely to succeed in school. (p.50)

A key concept for the empirical study of ways of taking meaning from written sources across communities is that of literacy events: occasions in which written language is integral to the nature of participants' interactions and their interpretive processes and strategies. Familiar literacy events for mainstream preschoolers are bedtime stories, reading cereal boxes, stop signs, and television ads, and interpreting instructions for commercial games and toys. In such literacy events, participants follow socially established rules for verbalizing what they know from and about the written material. Each community has rules for socially interacting and sharing knowledge in literacy events. (p.50)

The bedtime story is a major literacy event which helps set patterns of behavior that recur repeatedly through the life of mainstream children and adults. (p.51)

Before the age of two, the child is socialized into the "'initiation-reply-evaluation sequences" repeatedly described as the central structural feature of classroom lessons. (p.51) Training in ways of responding to this pattern begins very early in the labelling activities of mainstream parents and children. (p.52)

Reading for comprehension involves an internal replaying of the same types of questions adults ask children of bedtime stories. We seek what-explanations, asking what the topic is, establishing it as predictable and recognizing it in new situational contexts by classifying and categorizing it in our mind with other phenomena. (p54)

These various ways of taking [from books] are sometimes referred to as "cognitive styles" or "learning styles." It is generally accepted in the research literature that they are influenced by early socialization experiences and correlated with such features of the society in which the child is reared as social organization, reliance on authority, male-female roles, and so on. These styles are often seen as two contrasting types, most frequently termed "field independent-field dependent" (Witkin et al. 1966) or "analytic-relational" (Kagan, Sigel, and Moss I963; Cohen 1968, 1969, 1971). The analytic field-independent style is generally presented as that which correlates positively with high achievement and general academic and social success in school. Several studies discuss ways in which this style is played out in school - in preferred ways of responding to pictures and written text and selecting from among a choice of answers to test items. (p55)

In both [the Roadville and Trackton] communities, children go to school with certain expectancies of print and, in Trackton especially, children have a keen sense that reading is something one does to learn something one needs to know (Heath 1980). ... Roadville and Trackton view children's learning of language from two radically different perspectives: in Trackton, children "learn to talk," in Roadville, adults "teach them how to talk." (p57)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Nieto, S. (2005). Public education in the twentieth century and beyond

Nieto, S. (2005). Public education in the twentieth century and beyond: High hopes, broken promises, and an uncertain future. Harvard Educational Review 75(1):43-64.

Theories used explain the underachievement of students of diverse cultural, linguistic, and racial backgrounds.

1. Genetic and Cultural Inferiority - proponents assert that students of racial minority and economically poor backgrounds are genetically or culturally inferior

2. Economic and Social Reproduction Theories - schools tend to serve the interests of the dominant classes by reproducing the economic and social relations of society; schools help to create and maintain these inequalities.

3. Cultural Incompatibility Theory - school culture and home culture are often at odds, and the result is a “cultural clash” that gets in the way of student learning

4. Sociocultural Explanations for School Achievement - cultural practices of particular communities are linked with their students' learning in school settings. Shirley Brice Heath's (1983) classic research with a Black community that she called "Trackton" is a persuasive example of the power of aligning teaching to students' cultural practices.

5. Students as Castelike Minorities - According to Ogbu, given the long history of discrimination and racism in the schools, involuntary minority children and their families are often distrustful of the education system. It is not unusual for students from these groups to engage in what Ogbu called cultural inversion, that is, to resist acquiring and demonstrating the culture and cognitive styles identified with the dominant group.

6. Resistance theory, as articulated by scholars such as Henry Giroux (1983), Jim Cummins (1996), Herb Kohl (1994), and others, adds another layer to the explanation of school failure. According to this theory, not learning what schools teach can be interpreted as a form of political resistance.

7. Care, Student Achievement, and Social Capital - for Nel Noddings (1992), care is just as — and in some cases, even more — important than entrenched structural conditions that influence student learning. Valenzuela (1999): subtractive schooling concept; Ricardo Stanton-Salazar (1997): social capital networks framework

Newer theories: race, context of incorporation, and others - are also at work. Haitians, Nicaraguans, and Mexicans as economic refugees, who have significantly lower earnings than Cubans and Vietnamese, even after controlling for level of education, knowledge of English, and occupation. Alejandro Portes and Rubén Rumbaut (2001) found that immigrants fleeing from Communism are received more favorably than those fleeing economic exploitation.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Response to an OpEd by Nicholas Kristof

Below is my response to Response to an OpEd piece "How Mrs. Grady Transformed Olly Neal" by Nicholas Kristof (Published: January 21, 2012 in The New York Times)

I think we should celebrate teachers like Mildred Grady who made an extra effort to help a child and encourage his interest in reading, and Olly Neal who succeeded under challenging circumstances. Both sound like exceptional human beings.

However, I think Kristof's column and the simple narrative that a single great teacher transformed the life of an "at-risk" youth and was the key factor that enabled him to become educated, get a law degree and eventually become a court judge, is somewhat misleading. The column obscures the other positive influences in Olly Neal's life that were probably as or more important than Mrs. Grady - parents, family, mentors, etc. In addition, it is unlikely that Mr. Neal would have succeeded if he didn't have many competent and caring teachers through his life - before and after Mrs. Grady - and access to functional education systems.

While a great teacher can make a difference with some troubled, surly kids in a high-poverty environment, the odds of this happening are very low struggling in many inner-city schools today. The schools with the most troubled kids in high-poverty environments tend to have the toughest working conditions, worst funding, and weakest leadership that few good teachers would want to work or stay at.

Monday, January 16, 2012

What is Culture?

Excerpt from Michael Cole's Cultural Psychology (1996):
Culture, according to Hutchins, should be thought of as a process, not as "any collection of things, whether tangible or abstract." Culture "is a process and the 'things' that appear on list-like definitions of culture are residua of the process. Culture is an adaptive process that accumulates the partial solutions to frequently encountered problems." (Hutchins, p. 354)
Culture includes: artifacts, schemas, scripts, models, practices, heritages, history, activity systems

Excerpt from McDermott & Varenne (1995). Culture as Disability:

Anthropologists define culture as well-bound containers of coherence that mark off different kinds of people living in their various ways, each kind separated from the others by a particular version of coherence, a particular way of making sense and meaning. (p. 325)

The coherence of any culture is not given by members being the same, nor by members knowing the same things. Instead, the coherence of a culture is crafted from the partial and mutually dependent knowledge of each person caught in the process and depends, in the long run, on the work they do together. Life in culture, Bakhtin (1984[1940]) reminds us, is polyphonous and multivocalic; it is made of the voices of many, each one brought to life and made significant by the others, only sometimes by being the same, more often by being different, more dramatically by being contradictory. Culture is not so much a product of sharing as a product of people hammering each other into shape with the well-structured tools already available. We need to think of culture as this very process of hammering a world. When anthropologists instinctively celebrate the coherence of culture, they imply that all the people in the culture are the same, as if stereotyping is a worthy practice as long as it is done by professionals. Thick brush-stroke accounts of Samoans or Balinese, to stay with Margaret Mead, may give some hints as to what Samoans and Balinese must deal with in their daily life, but they can greatly distort the complexity of Samoans and Balinese as people. The coherence of culture is something many individuals, in multiple realities, manage to achieve together; it is never simply the property of individual persons. (p.326)

The anthropological instinct has been perhaps most destructive when applied to the divisions and inequalities that exist inside a presumed cultural container, that is, the culture “of which they are a member,” “to which they belong,” or “in which they participate.” The problem in assuming that there is one way to be in a culture encourages the misunderstanding that those who are different from perceived norms are missing something, that it is their doing, that they are locked out for a reason, that they are in fact, in reality, disabled. If it is distorting to describe Samoans and Balinese without an account of the full range of diversity to be found in Samoa or Bali, imagine how distorting it can be in complex divided fields like the United States.

When culture is understood as the knowledge that people need for living with each other, it is easy to focus on how some always appear to have more cultural knowledge than others, that some can be a part of everything and others not, that some are able and others not. Before entering the Country of the Blind, Nunez thought that sight was essential to being fully cultured and that having sight in a world of people who cannot see would net him the cultural capital of a king. The anthropological instinct teaches us that he was arrogant to think he knew better and foolish to not learn from his masterful subjects. The instinct gives us an essential insight, and we can be thankful that anthropology has taken its place in the human sciences.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Grossman (1990) - frameworks that try to define "effective" programs of teacher education

Grossman, Pamela L. (1990) The Making of a Teacher: Teacher Knowledge and Teacher Education. NY: Teachers’ College Press.

Except from pages 135-136

In analyzing the features of the curriculum and instruction sequence in English that influenced the development of pedagogical content knowledge by Steven, Megan, and Vanessa, it may be helpful to put this course into a larger context by looking at other frameworks that try to define "effective" programs of teacher education. Griffin (1986) analyzed the features of effective clinical teacher education and identified seven critical features, five of which would apply to both the subject-specific coursework and the larger program of teacher education described in this chapter. The five features include a well-articulated purpose, participation and collaboration, a theoretical knowledge base, a developmental progression, and an analytical and reflective perspective toward practice.

A second framework, developed as part of the National Center for Research on Teacher Education (Cohen, 1986), proposes three features related to the academic quality of teacher education programs. Posed as dichotomies, these features contrast:

  • the portrayal of knowledge as fixed versus knowledge as evolving and tentative;
  • teacher education students as passive vessels versus students as active constructors of knowledge; and
  • instruction as transmission of knowledge versus instruction through discourse.
In the curriculum and instruction courses, knowledge was seen as incomplete, students actively constructed their evolving knowledge of teaching, and instruction proceeded through discussion and dialogue.

A third framework, developed by Katz and Raths (1988), also poses dichotomies, which are labeled as persistent dilemmas in teacher education. Arguing that the solutions to each dilemma are mutually exclusive, the authors suggest that how a teacher education program resolves these dilemmas will contribute to its impact on students as well as the students' satisfaction with the program. The dilemmas include:

  • whether to aim for coverage or breadth of content or to focus on mastery or depth;
  • whether to offer eclectic programs or thematic programs;
  • an emphasis on current needs of students versus an emphasis on future needs;
  • an evaluative stance toward students versus a supportive stance; whether to teach toward current school practices or to encourage innovative practices; and
  • whether to assess students globally or specifically.
The subject-specific component of this program resolved these dilemmas in favor of mastery of a few key concepts; a thematic approach; a supportive relationship among supervisors, professor, and students; and a decision to encourage innovative practice. While clearly stating that the courses were designed to meet students' current needs, in fact the course served both current and future needs.

A final framework for thinking about the influence of the curriculum and instruction course is the very framework advocated by the course for the teaching of English - instructional scaffolding. The five features of instructional scaffolding (Langer & Applebee, 1986) including ownership, appropriateness, support, collaboration, and transfer of control-could be used to describe the nature of instruction in this class.