Ways with Words language, life, and work in communities and classrooms

A Book Club Professional Learning Guide by Joy Valentine

"This book is written for what I call "learning researchers," non-academics and academics alike." - Shirley Brice Heath

In the late 1960's, school desegregation in the southern United States became a legislative mandate and a fact of daily life.

ACADEMIC QUESTIONS: What do I do in my classroom? Why do these children talk differently? Why are there language differences among Black and White children and adults of different socioeconomic classes across the United States? How can I understand them? Do they understand me?

A Tale of Two Communities: Heath took a decade long look at two working-class communities of Blacks and Whites - students and teachers who never were in the same academic setting and adult mill workers who never worked side by side until 1960's court-ordered desegregation. The small town of Laurenceville in the Piedmont region of North Carolina was center stage for Heath's ethnographic work in the study of language and culture at micro and macro levels.

A tale of two cultures and values bases: Yours and your students

activity One (5 minutes): Turn to your elbow partnerĀ and say, 'Tell me your sociolinguistic story': Begin with sharing your first language, where you were born...how has language and culture shaped you?


Chapter Three: Traditional and Nontraditional Lessons

"For all teachers and teacher researchers: In the end, it's your work that counts." - Courtney B. Cazden

Cazden gives an analysis of a traditional lesson called "Birthplaces." The primary grades lesson objective: to make and begin to understand maps. The teacher asks students where they were born? The sequence of talk occurs naturally. Structure and improvisational quality of traditional lessons sharpen understanding of an event. As a nontraditional lesson, Cazden highlights how in an elementary mathematics lesson on finding the difference in two heights, students' explanations are as important as answers, and listening and referring to peers is expected.

Language Development: A Reader for Teachers by Brenda Miller Power and Ruth Shagoury Hubbard On Inner Speech: Vygotsky puts forth that egocentric speech is stage of development preceding inner speech: "Both fulfill intellectual functions...egocentric speech disappears at school age when inner speech begins to develop. Inner speech happens along with socialization. The functional, structural, and genetic characteristics of egocentric speech play significant roles in cognitive developmentĀ and language learning. Language is a cultural tool. History and culture are transmitted through language.

What No Bedtime Story Means: Narrative Skills at Home and School by Shirley Brice Heath Cambridge University Press

Literacy Events: Familiar literacy events for many families includes bedtime stories, those highway games you play when traveling, reading cereal boxes, reading instructions for games and toys. What makes these events social is that one is following socially established rules for articulating what they know from what they read from the written material. These events do not happen in all families. Each group of learners comes to the classroom from different communities and each of these communities has its own established rules for social interacting, oral traditions, and sharing knowledge in literacy events. Since all households are not typical or "nuclear", the rules learned are different. Heath's close analyses of how some children learn reveal that some mainstream children take meaning from books and know how to talk about it. These are the children who have learned to listen and have had experience as information givers. Children who have not been read to or listened to have different literacy characteristics. Therefore, as teacher-educators, we return to the idea of knowing our students and their established values. "We need...a great deal of ethnography" (Hymes 1973: 57) to help describe ways different social groups "take" knowledge form the environment.

FACT: Approximately 90 percent of K-12 teachers in the U.S. are White, while 36 percent of the national school population are students of color. This contrast underscores the critical role of White teachers in challenging racial bias in the curriculum and in school culture.

Reflection: What are your next steps in ethnographic work? How will you foster a culture of respecting the values of your students and school community?

Created By
Joy Valentine

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