Author Archives: amberlisse

Start with the Parents: How Teaching Literacy Skills to Parents is Imperative to Child Reading Success

 For the last several weeks, I have been contemplating what kind of impact parents’ literacy skills have on the reading ability of their children.  After I completed extensive research and careful investigation of this topic, I realized that a parent with high literacy skills, who actually uses these skills when reading to his or her children, will be more likely to have a child who has better emergent literacy skills at a young age.  Although this fact seems obvious, the reasons for these findings are not as straightforward as they might seem.  Before I started this research, I believed that simply reading to a child was enough to improve their literacy skills later in life.  However, each of the three longitudinal studies that I read argued that there is actually a weak correlation between frequency of reading to a child and emergent literacy success when researchers control for all other variables.  Simply reading to a child will not guarantee that you have the next voracious reader on your hands.  The next logical question any current or future parent (or concerned citizen) might ask is, how can I increase the chances of my child being a reading superstar?


To find the answer to this question, I investigated three longitudinal studies that all looked at family literacy activities (between parents and children in the home), as well as children’s various successes as they become older (look here, here, here, or here if you want to read them for yourself; Evans, Shaw, & Bell, 2000).  All of these studies were quite extensive, with various forms of observation, questionnaires, and interviews to determine the type of literacy activities practiced in the home.  Additionally, each of these studies followed children for a long period of time to see which emergent literacy skills developed, and whether or not these skills met the original expectations of the researchers.


Most of the original studies that led to this idea that simply reading to children will increase their reading ability, focused on the frequency and not the quality of storybook reading activities (like this one).  However, after further research, all three of these detailed studies concluded that two types of reading activities typically happen in the home.  Informal literacy interactions, which consist of storybook reading that is done just for the content and enjoyment of the story, was found to influence a child’s speaking skills, but not their reading or writing skills (and thus does not directly impact a child’s reading ability).  On the other hand, formal literacy interactions, or parent teaching, where a parent focuses on the form of the language rather than the meaning of a story, was found to directly impact a child’s reading and writing ability (Look here,  here, here, or here for more info).  As a result, the research shows that parents need to actually teach literacy skills to their children in order to prepare them to be successful readers later in life.  Reading a story every night without ever stopping to focus on the letters of the alphabet or sounds in each word may, in fact, not raise a good reader.


Although the studies I read were incredibly thought-provoking, there were certain areas where they came short in terms of my areas of interest with ESL parents.  First of all, all three longitudinal studies controlled for parental literacy so that they were able to simply see the correlation between formal and informal literacy activities, and child reading success.  Although I appreciate and understand the need to control for literacy in these studies, the research is definitely lacking in terms of a study that looks at these factors without controlling for the literacy of the parents.  Despite the fact that I’m sure that I already know the answer, it would be interesting to see a study that did not control for literacy, and therefore was able to determine whether less literate parents were less likely to practice formal literacy activities in the home, and vice versa.  If that study were done, it would be easy to argue for the need for parent literacy classes that would allow parents to feel empowered to practice formal literacy skills with their children at home.


Another shortcoming with these studies, in terms of my area of interest with ESL students, is that many of these implications cannot easily be transferred to parents who do not have the linguistic capacity to engage in formal literacy activities with their children, especially in English.  All of the research about parents reading to their children and/or focusing on formal literacy activities implies that it is possible for parents to engage in both types of activities, which is simply not true for low-literate or nonnative speakers of English (if the child is expected to go to school in the United States, and thus acquire emergent reading skills in English).  As a result, I have come up with a few ideas of how to expand these studies, to include parents who do not currently have the linguistic ability to practice formal and informal literacy activities with their children at home.  If these studies were done, it would be easy to see the correlation between literacy ability and the frequency of these literacy activities in the home, and a stronger argument could be made for giving parents the literacy skills they need to help their children succeed.


When I first started investigating this topic, I wanted to focus on simply all ESL learners who do not currently have the ability to engage in formal literacy activities with their children because they do not have the educational background or knowledge of the English language to do so.  However, that broad focus brought up another issue that still needs to be investigated.  What if these same parents were literate in their first languages, and were able to teach literacy skills to their children using books and resources in their native language?  In this case, would a child still be more likely to be a successful reader of English once he or she entered school and started learning more about the English language?  Is it the actual lessons in literacy that are important, or the lessons in English literacy that make a difference?  Furthermore, could a parent who has knowledge of the spoken English language but is lacking in English literacy skills, still pass on strong literacy skills to his or her child?  Or is it the actual literacy that makes all of the difference?


In exploring these questions, I turned to a study that looked at emergent literacy skills in children of immigrants who come from a primarily oral culture.  This study focused much more on the issues I was investigating, with the other longitudinal studies, by looking at the ways that the “cumulative effects of poverty, oral home culture, parental inability to mediate language and literacy, and non-optimal conditions for becoming bilingual place young immigrant children at risk for academic failure early on.”  (It is important to note that this is not referring to all immigrant children, but primarily those with parents who are unable to help them acquire the literacy skills they need to be successful in school.)  These parents are restricted in their ability to enhance and transmit literacy skills to their children, which, looking at the findings from the studies listed above, implies that the children will not have the same emergent literacy success as their peers who receive informal and formal literacy instruction from their parents at home.  This study found that parents with low-literacy levels were more likely to have children who were not successful readers in school, whereas parents who had higher levels of literacy (but all other variables the same), were more likely to have children who had higher emergent literacy skills.


If I were able to conduct further research in this area, I would like to combine the nature of both of these areas of study to get to the heart of the question that I truly want to investigate.  I would have three groups of parents, those with high literacy abilities in English, those with low-literacy abilities in English but high literacy abilities in their native languages, and those with low-literacy abilities in any language.  I would conduct a study that researched the frequency and type of both formal and informal literacy activities occurring in the home (just like the three longitudinal studies mentioned above).  I would then look at the results to determine the frequency of formal and informal literacy activities for each of the three groups, as well as the emergent literacy skills for their perspective children.  Finally, I would investigate this data to see which factors had the largest results in terms of determining child reading success.


It would be interesting to know whether parents who have high literacy abilities in English but do not frequently engage in formal literacy activities with their children are more likely to raise successful readers than parents with lower literacy skills in English but more frequent formal literacy interaction with their children in their native language.  Additionally, it would be useful to know just how much of a detriment it is for children to have parents who are unable to teach them formal literacy skills in any language.


All of these findings would help me argue the point that I have wanted to make since I first started on this inquiry.  In my opinion, we need to help the parents in our society acquire the skills they need to be successful readers, before we can expect all of the children in our schools to have an equal chance to succeed.  Once children enter school and begin to learn literacy skills from their Kindergarten teacher, they are already years behind their peers who have been engaging in formal and informal literacy activities with their parents since they were first born.  We should be helping parents acquire English literacy, from the very moment they arrive in the United States.  This instruction should not take over their native language, or force people to learn what they are not ready to learn.  However, if parents want their children to be successful readers, which is a necessary foundation to be successful students, both formal and informal literacy activities need to take place in the home from a very young age.  Only parents who have the knowledge and education to engage in those literacy activities themselves will be able to help their children on this journey.  As a result, I believe it is imperative that we start with the parents, and teach literacy skills that will help their children be successful readers and learners, for generations to come.


Blog # 6 – Investigation of a Five-Year Longitudinal Study of Parental Involvement in the Development of Chidren’s Reading Skill

Sénéchal, Monique & Le Fevre, J. (2002). Parental Involvement in the Development of Children’s Reading Skill:  A Five-Year Longitudinal Study. Child Development, 73(2), 445-460.


In my quest for finding out whether or not improved literacy skills of parents impact literacy success in their children, nearly every article I found cited the longitudinal study by Sénéchal and Le Fevre, so I decided that it would be a perfect article to examine more closely.  This study was quite complex, and made me wish on more than one occasion that I had paid better attention in the statistics course I took over ten years ago!  However, after digging through all of the nitty gritty details, I realized that this study does begin to answer many of the questions I have been asking, and points clearly to other areas where research is lacking and where I would like to do a closer examination.

The article I am reviewing for this blog post presented the findings of a five-year longitudinal study of 168 children.  The study investigated the relationship between early home literacy experiences and reading achievement in the third grade. The goal of the study was to “examine the pathways from children’s early knowledge and experiences through to fluent reading, with a focus on how parental involvement is related to the development of reading skills (Sénéchal & Le Fevre, 2002, p. 445).  One of the most important distinctions this article makes, in terms of relating to my area of interest, is between informal and formal literacy activities. Informal literacy activities are those for which the primary goal is the message contained in the print, not the actual words themselves.  For example, if a parent reads a fairy tale to a child with the purpose of telling a good story, or teaching a moral lesson, this would be considered an informal literacy activity.  On the other hand, formal literacy activities are those where the parent and child focus on the words, or the print in the story more than the meaning.  For example, a book focusing on ABCs or rhyming words is read to teach formal literacy.  However, it is possible to teach both formal literacy and informal literacy while reading the same story, simply by engaging in different activities.  This study examines all of the different literacy practices that the parents in the study complete with their children, and studies the impact these activities had on their children over the course of the five years in the study. 

To determine how often they engaged in informal literacy activities with their children, parents were asked to report on how many books they read to their children.  To test for accuracy, parents were asked to identify popular children’s book titles and authors, with false titles and authors thrown in to ensure parents did not simply randomly select books that they have never actually read with their children.  I question the accuracy of these results.  It seems to me this might be easy to do for books you have read over and over again with your children, but there is no guarantee that a parent can recall the title and author of a book he or she may have picked up from the local library and read with his or her child only one time.  Additionally, some parents may be better at recalling titles and authors of storybooks, while others simply remember the content.  However, I cannot think of a more flawless way of capturing this data, without recording parents reading to their children at home, which would be extremely impractical to do on a large scale.

To determine how often parents focused on formal literacy activities, parents were simply asked to report on how frequently they taught their child about reading and writing words, or the sound and letter correspondences within these words.  Once again, this does not seem like the most accurate way to record formal literacy activities, but gathering “hard data” would be nearly impossible when looking at such a large number of children for over five years.

One of the most interesting findings of this study, and one that has a great deal of impact in my research, is that there is no correlation between the frequency that parents engage in informal literacy activities, and the frequency that these same parents engage in formal literacy activities.  In other words, just because a parent reads a lot of books to his or her children, does not necessarily mean he or she will focus on the words and the sounds in the English language, or vice versa. 

The main finding of this study was that parent-child reading that involved informal literacy activities were directly related to the development of receptive language, especially when children reached first and third grade.  Additionally, parent-child reading that involved formal literacy activities were directly related to the development of emergent literacy, especially in the pre-K and Kindergarten years.  These factors were determined by giving emergent literacy tests to the children in pre-K and Kindergarten (focused on alphabet knowledge, decoding, consonant-vowel awareness, and invented spelling), as well as in first and third grade (focused on reading comprehension, speed, and ability), and comparing these results to the earlier literacy activities reported by their parents. 

As a result, the study argues that simply reading to children should have some impact on their reading comprehension as they get older, but may not be much as much of a benefit in helping them learn to read or recognize sounds and letters in pre-K and Kindergarten.  Similarly, simply focusing on the structure of the language and the words on the page might result in a child learning to read at a younger age, or be a better speller, but may not necessarily impact their reading success later in life.  So, you may be asking yourself, what is the point of this whole study?  From what I can tell, it is of vital importance for parents to engage in BOTH informal and formal literacy activities while their children are growing up.

The main reason this article did not give me everything I could ever dream of, and more, is that it focused on middle and upper-middle class families.  All of the 168 children in the study were native English speakers, which means none of this data speaks directly to the question that I am investigating.  Although the study did account for literacy differences between parents, namely their education level and how much they enjoy reading themselves, it did not account for parents who might enjoy reading but are unable to do it because of language barriers.  Additionally, it did not speak to the low-literacy, non-native English speaking population I am focused on that may or may not have easy access to books to read to their children, and may or may not be able to afford a great deal of books to keep in their homes.

Parent literacy DOES seem to impact child reading success

In my fourth blog, I posed the question “should we make a stronger case for improved literacy classes for parents because it will increase their child’s reading success?”  This, of course, assumes that the literacy level of the parents will influence a child’s reading ability, which is the topic that I would like to explore in more detail.  In doing so, I looked closely at Roberts, Jurgens, and Burchinal’s (2005) study “The Role of Home Literacy Practices in Preschool Children’s Language and Emergent Literacy Skills.”  I was trying to figure out if I can find any correlation between parent literacy level and child reading success, especially since it appears that there have not been any studies that examined this issue in this way.  (There have been countless studies examining the socio-economic status of parents and the way it relates to child literacy levels, but I’m not in the business of reinventing the wheel here…)

In Roberts, Jurgens, and Burchinal’s study, they followed 72 children from the time they were infants until they started Kindergarten measuring the increase in their reading ability during that time.  In doing so, they examined four specific measures of home literacy practices “(i.e. parents’ perceptions of frequency of shared book reading and of how much a child enjoys being read to, maternal book reading strategies, and maternal sensitivity during shared book reading)” (p. 348).  For my purposes, I am not as interested in maternal sensitivity (although of course, I believe in the importance of a sensitive mother), or the frequency of shared book reading (since that study has been done over and over and over again.)  What intrigues me the most is the idea of a child’s interest during book reading, and the maternal book reading strategies.  Although I know to do might spoil the ending, I skip right to the end by saying that both the child’s interest during book reading and strong maternal book reading strategies correlate to stronger reading skills for the child.  (gasp!!!)  Not surprised?  Ok, me neither.  But what I want to investigate in more detail is why, and specifically, how this might be used to argue for a strong correlation between parent literacy skills and child reading success.


In terms of child interest during book reading, the study states that “the role of parents is to create an interactional context that encourages a child’s interest in reading” (p. 346).  Obviously. 

But how easy is this for parents who do not even have a firm grasp of the language they are reading in?  Picture this scenario…… There are countless immigrant parents, struggling through adult schools to try and improve their English little by little, who have children born and raised in the US.  Most of these parents try incredibly hard to give their children the advantages in life that they may not have had.  In doing so, they try to follow the advice of pre-school teachers who preach about the benefits of reading to your child as much as possible.  At the same time, these same parents are listening to their ESL teachers who are telling them about the vast improvements they can make in their English simply by reading to their children on a regular basis.  So, the dutiful non-native English speaking parent makes the trek to the public library, checks out the Very Hungry Caterpillar, and makes the journey back home.  When this same parent decides to sit down and read the story to their child, they may find, embarrassingly enough, that a book written for three and four year olds is full of difficult words that need to be sounded out.  After all, what ESL teacher puts “caterpillar” into their beginning level lesson plans? 

As a result, the parent ends up sounding out words at whatever pace they can muster, while the child fidgets on their lap.  If a parent’s reading slows down to focus on accuracy, their fluency will definitely be affected.  Does fluency and rate impact a child’s interest during book reading?  My guess would be that it does, which in turn, will have a negative impact on the child’s reading ability.  Additionally, if reading is difficult and seems like a struggle for the parent, doesn’t that apprehension and difficult feeling transfer to the child?  Chances are that it does.  Strike one for the struggling non-native English-speaking parent….


Maternal book reading strategies were also shown in this study to correlate to stronger child reading skills.  “Specific parent behaviors, such as asking open-ended questions, adding information, focusing on print concepts, and eliciting abstract language, are related to children’s later language skills” (p. 347).  This sounds great for parents who have no problems reading the stories that they may pick up at the library, or that their children may bring home from school. 

However, how difficult is it for a parent to ask open-ended questions if they didn’t even understand half of the words they were reading in the first place?  How monumental is the task of adding even more information when the information on the page is daunting enough?  How is someone supposed to focus on print concepts, or elicit abstract language, when they are just learning to navigate the language for themselves?  Once again, these factors that have been shown to lead to positive changes in child reading ability are next to impossible for parents who are just learning the language.  Strike two for the struggling non-native English-speaking parent…..


But, there may be hope.  I believe that more literacy programs can be put in place that focus on both the parent and the child, and which can lead to a more holistic advancement in the reading level of everyone involved.  But I’ll hold on to train of thought for next time….



Parent Literacy Impacting Student Reading Success

I’ve been thinking about a topic to investigate all week.  I have been going back and forth between trying to find something that deals with ESL students (as a result of my familiarity and past experiences with this population) and the type of reading students that we have been discussing for this class.  One of the most interesting ways for me to combine these two areas is to look at the relationship that a parent’s literacy ability has on their child’s reading ability later in life.  It seems like a quick and easy answer, right?  If a parent reads to their child, the child will be a better reader.  If a parent doesn’t read to their child, the child will be a failure.  (I hope I’m oversimplifying it here, but that is how a lot of the research comes across.)  However, as we all know, there are plenty of parents who don’t read to their children very often who have children who turn out just fine.  And, in a much sadder scenario (and one that I am more familiar with), there are many parents who try to read to their children because they know that they should, but still find that their children are ending up in remedial reading classes in school.  This happens quite frequently with some of my older ESL students, who do not have strong literacy skills in English but still try to read to their children as often as possible.  Many my students end up frustrated because they struggle through the words on the page and feel that their children are not getting anything out of the process.  The question I want to investigate is how strongly we should make a case for improved literacy classes for parents as a way to increase child reading success.

There has been a great deal of research done on factors that influence literacy, but it seems that many of these studies focus more on the social and economic status of the parent, rather than the language ability.  However, I was able to find a few articles that started exploring other possibilities.  In a few studies, researchers have argued that the education level of the parents influences a child’s success in reading much more than the frequency of reading itself.  That idea made me stop and think for a while.  I’ve always thought that the more a child is read to, the better off they will be, regardless of the education level of the reader.  However, some of the researchers are arguing that the success of a child’s literacy is influenced more by the accuracy of their parents’ reading than the frequency.  They also argue that parents who are unable to teach their children about accuracy and phonemic awareness in english, are more likely to have children with lower literacy skills, even if they read to their children more frequently.  Furthermore, the argument is made that general reading activities, where a story is read to a child without any attention being drawn to the reading process itself, does not really develop letter name and sound knowledge, phonological sensitivity, or receptive vocabulary.  As a result, parents who have lower literacy skills and are simply trying to share the ideas in the story with their children are less likely to be able to give direct instruct on these skills, which will, again, lead to lower reading ability for the children.

Hopefully, after I investigate this issue much more, I start to think of ways to help my students learn the literay skills they need to help their children be successful readers later in life.

Possible Reading List

    • Evans, Mary A; Shaw, Deborah; & Bell, Michelle (2000) – Home Literacy Activities and Their Influence on Early Literacy Skills
    • Roberts, Joanne; Jurgens, Julia; & Burchinal, Margaret (2005) – The Role of Home Literacy Practices in Preschool Children’s Language and Emergent Literacy Skills

    • Senechal, Monique: & LeFevre, Jo-Anne (2002) – Parental Involvement in the Development of Children’s Reading Skill:  A Five-Year Longitudinal Study

    • Sénéchal, Monique; LeFevre, Jo-Anne; Thomas, Eleanor M. & Daley, Karen E. (1998) – Differential Effects of Home Literacy Experiences on the Development of Oral and Written Language

Multi-cultural “balance” in the post-secondary reading classroom

In my first blog post, I posed a few questions related to the fact that students in our classroom come from a variety of cultures and different backgrounds.  The main question that I have been grappling with, is this;  Are there ways that we can better support our students so that they can be more successful in the classroom, and more likely to be part of the academic discourse community?  Although this question has seemed to evoke a great deal of debate in our class, I think part of what is being debated is simply the problem of how people are defining “support” for the students that currently exist in American college classrooms.  I would like to point out (in response to a past comment) that I am in no way arguing for a segregated classroom.  Instead, as I will explain in more detail below, I believe that all students in the classroom can be better supported if they are able to interact with a variety of engaging texts that they can better relate to.

As much as we might like to ignore it, with each passing year more and more students walk into the college classroom without really being prepared for it.  For a variety of reasons, students are not ready to read, write, and even think at a college level.  It is our job, as teachers, do to whatever possible to help them achieve college-level reading, writing, and critical thinking skills.  This feat would be difficult enough if all of the students in the classroom shared the same first language, and cultural beliefs.  However, the fact is that they do not.  More and more students are coming into the classroom with different linguistic backgrounds, cultural expectations, and even ways of thinking and behaving in the classroom.  To believe that one teacher can simply stand at the front of a class and teach in the same way to all of these students, year after year, is absurd.  In my opinion, it is the teacher’s job to at least try to meet the needs of the students in his or her classroom.  The question here, is how exactly should the teacher accomplish this difficult task?

In my second blog entry, I used an example from Ferdman’s text to argue that there should be an effort made to incorporate texts into the reading classroom that are from outside of the dominant discourse.  This, in my opinion, can work to support students who do not immediately relate to the typical academic texts that are sometimes used in a reading classroom.  It is my belief that students will make improvements to their reading skills if they are more interested in what they are reading.  Giving them a wide variety of texts that may speak more to their backgrounds and experiences can help students relate in this way.  This, it seems, is where our class starts to disagree on what type of support should be offered to the learners.  I do not and would not argue for a teacher trying to tell students what culture they are a part of.  I also would never argue for a teacher trying to “teach” how a culture behaves or acts.  However, I do believe a teacher can try to get to know his or her students, to see what their backgrounds are and what interests they have, and to try to give them texts that they might be more interested in reading.  A budding poet in the classroom might not be inspired by Keats’ “on first looking into Chapman’s Homer”, but might be completely blown away after reading Holmes’ “Untitled” poem we read the third week of class.  Why should we only offer our students a poem that we feel is “acceptable college-level material” or coming from the “academic discourse”?  Some of my classmates argued that it is too difficult for a teacher to be expected to teach texts that they might not be as familiar with, culturally speaking.  However, I am heartened knowing that there are stories about teachers such as Chamblee,  who have created classrooms which incorporate a wide variety of texts that better engage all of the students in the class.  After doing so, Chamblee “began to see these reluctant readers, these at-risk students, become real readers and writers — people who could engage in the processes with both authority and enthusiasm” (p. 371).  Although the teacher might be working outside of his or her comfort zone in this situation, I believe that it is much more important for students in the classroom to feel as if they have authority over what they are reading and writing.  After all, the teachers already know how to critically engage with a difficult piece of text.  Proving that to the students does not seem like an important part of the reading classroom.

I know this might be extremely controversial, but I’ll just throw it out there.  I really don’t care if some of my students never learn how to read Hamlet perfectly and discuss all of the relevant themes that exist in that piece of literature.  It’s much more important, to me, that they learn how to read in general, to question what they are reading, and maybe even at some point pick up a book and read it for pleasure.  We are not talking (necessarily) about literature majors here.  We are talking about first-year college students, many of whom admit that they NEVER read for fun.  Is it our job, as reading teachers, to teach them how to analyze literature, or to enjoy to read, and learn how to think critically about the text in order to use it in their future academic or vocational endeavors?  Some of the best critical discussions may come from texts that might not seem like pieces of academic gold, but that students can relate to and interact with.  And that, in my opinion, is what teaching reading is all about.

Literacy and Cultural Identity – Our Role as Educators in Different Classroom Settings

Ferdman’s article on Literacy and Cultural Identity showcases issues that I’m sure many educators have battled with.  How much emphasis do we place on cultural differences in the classroom?  In promoting literacy, are we asking students to embrace the dominant culture, or are we simply giving them tools to succeed in the future?  Is success somehow tied to the literacy that we are helping students acquire, and if so, tied to a dominant culture?

There are no clear answers to these questions.  At best, it seems that these questions simply stir up more questions that teachers cannot really begin to answer.  If an illiterate person is “someone who cannot access (or produce) texts that are seen as significant within a given culture” (p. 186), then a person who cannot read and write in the language that is dominant in that given culture would be considered illiterate.  In a country like America, this definition is extremely complex.  Whose culture are we talking about?  The majority?  The dominant group?  The people who create these definitions in the first place?  What about the “significant texts,” who decides what is considered significant?  Ferdman does his best to address many of these questions, but in my opinion, the more questions that he addresses, the more that are raised.

If we put aside the definition of literacy as simply being able to read and write, and take on the idea that it includes being able to comprehend and manipulate symbols in a culturally prescribed manner (p. 188), what does this say about people who are master manipulators of language yet operate outside of the mainstream cultural norm? [Cult leaders, perhaps….?? (for lack of a better example)]

If we buy into the idea that literacy is tied to cultural identity, and if we believe that teaching literacy at least in some small way is tied to promoting the dominant culture of the language we are helping students acquire literacy in, and if we are going to think about whether or not this burden that teachers are faced with can (or should) be addressed in some way, then I believe there should be a distinction between teaching literacy to children in a K-12 setting, and teaching or improving literacy at the post-secondary level.  There is a huge difference, in my mind, between promoting a dominant culture through the teaching of literacy to children, and teaching literacy skills to adults.  Children, learning how to read and write at a young age, are still shaping their identities in a huge way, and are required to go to school, without having any choice in the matter.  Ferdman gives the example of how teaching literacy in different languages can impact a child’s gender socialization and identity in various ways, depending on the specific language’s focus on gender.  In this case, I believe that more emphasis should be on allowing for some cultural variation in the teaching of literacy.  If it is not possible to teach children to be literate in a wide variety of languages in the classroom, there can (and should, I would argue) be an effort to incorporate texts that are written from outside of the dominant discourse.  However, this is a very different situation from an adult who is choosing to go to college for a specific purpose.  Many adults in higher education are there to improve their job prospects, and better prepare themselves for the future.  In this case, it is important to focus on the type of literacy that will help students meet their needs, which most likely means helping students access the academic discourse community, which is typically shaped by the dominant discourse of the dominant culture.

No matter what, I believe that helping students become literate is one of the most important things that a teacher can do, especially in a situation where literacy can help students access more resources within the dominant culture.  I believe that the more languages that a person is literate in, the better equipped he or she will be to succeed.  Giving students the tools they need to become literate in a specific language can hopefully be just another one of the building blocks needed to form a strong cultural identity.

My first steps into the big bad world of blogging

After doing all of the readings for this week, I found myself trying to decide what I should choose to write about for my first blog post.  I have never written a blog before, and I must admit that even starting to write in this blog was a difficult idea to wrap my head around.  I found myself going back and forth between thinking about how to write for a blog, and deciding what ideas from the reading I should focus on.  In the end, I decided that I should embrace the casual writing style that is so prevalent in the “blogging world,” and simply start writing and let my ideas flow onto the page.  Here goes….

Gee’s article was extremely interesting to me, probably because of my focus on second language acquisition, and my desire to learn as much as possible about other people and cultures.  I love the way that he talked about discourse from a variety of perspectives.  When I was reading his article, I kept furiously writing notes in the margin as I read, making connections between his words and other theories that I am reading and thinking about for other classes and in other parts of my life.  Somewhat foolishly, I wrote these comments while reading as if I was discovering something Gee hadn’t yet thought of.  As I turned each page, I had to laugh as I watched his words describe the same ideas I had just scrawled haphazardly in the margins, in a much more clear and concise manner.  Although I didn’t “invent” any of the connections that Gee made, I do love the way that he talked about learning to read as “learning some aspect of some discourse” (p. 540).  As he described the difference between cultures who highly value language acquisition, with cultures who value a more teacher-based learning approach, I couldn’t help but wonder what this implies for the American educational system, with students coming from a variety of different cultures all over the world.  What is the correlation between cultures who value language acquisition in a more casual, immersive setting, and the people who come to American colleges unable to be a successful part of the academic discourse community?  Are there ways that we can embrace the ability these students have to acquire language in a more naturalistic setting, and use that to help them be a part of the academic discourse community?  Or will a part of them, no matter how small, always feel as if they are on the outside looking in?

One of the most interesting aspects of Gee’s article (in  my opinion,) is on page 541, where he talks about “primitive” cultures functioning like extended families (or a “society of intimates,”) where the oral mode of language is much more useful and more widely used, while more modern societies function like strangers and use the oral mode of language in a much more limited way.  This idea made me stop and think about the implications for this idea.  In many “primitive” cultures, the language of the people does not even have a written form.  So which came first?  (The old “chicken or the egg” question…..)  Do these “primitive” cultures typically not have a written language because the oral mode of language is much more important, and therefore the written form is not traditionally needed?  Or, is the oral mode of language so much more important simply because there is no written form, and there is not really any other choice?