Heath’s (1986) article presents the different types of social practices that the students are exposed to at home. Heath (1986) identifies in What no bedtime story means: Narrative skills at home and school three different kinds of literacy practices rooted in the traditions of the family’s individual social groups. These are:
(1) the mainstream school-oriented communities, exemplified in Heath’s article by the families from Maintown (middle class, Caucasian families);
(2) the families from Roadville (poor, Caucasian families);
(3) the families from Trackton (poor, African-American families).
Although Heath’s categorisation and labeling of American families cannot be blindly applied to the Thai context, I feel that I am right in saying that the quiet girl in my first example belongs to the Roadville type of family, that believe in “instilling in children the proper use of words and understanding of the meaning of the written word” (Heath, 1986, p.108). This may be an explanation why this particular girl from my class was so careful with her answers. As shown in Heath (1986), children brought up in ‘Roadville families’ had difficulties thinking further what-question, finding reason-explanations or affective commentaries hard to deal with.
The outspoken boy in my second example might belong to the Thai equivalent of a ‘Maintown family,’ where the traditions of family’s literate practices encouraged the boy to explore on his previous knowledge and to make cross-references. His great ability of “framing knowledge orally” (Heath, 1986, p. 104) might have been the reason why he was such an outspoken students. His parents’ confession that they were not aware of their child’s outspoken character might also be explained by the fact that being “talkative” was not something unusual in their social group. It is also possible that the boy was just “trying to seek the teacher’s approval” (Malin, 1990, p.325) with regards to his daily classroom interactions.
Children’s first literacy practices are “in accordance with their community’s rules or ‘ways of taking’ and the children’s learning follows community paths of language socialization” (Heath, 1986, p.119). Some of the literacy practices that the children were exposed to are also advocated by the schools they attended. Thus, children coming from ‘Maintown-like families’ are more likely to fit in the mainstream schooling system and perform well, while children from families with different social practices (such as those in Roadville and Trackton) are more prone to failure (Heath, 1986).
Although the IRE (initiate, respond, evaluate) pattern is favoured by mainstream schools and practiced in mainstream families, I do not consider it is as bad classroom practice. Although it reinforces the practices associated with ‘what questions,’ the IRE pattern has its benefits, especially in the early years of schooling. What teachers need to do is diversify their teaching strategies in such a way as to also include the learning styles of children from various social groups. It is very important for teachers to understand their students’ personalities, and avoid classifying “students of any particular cultural group into the same category of behaviour for all things” (p.327).
A good example of how this can be done is provided by Honan (2004), who used the four resources model to create a balanced teaching practice. Another possibility is that of employing the Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences (Smith, 2008) to identify the kind of intelligences that the teacher could nurture and strengthen.
Malin (1990) argues that treating all the students the same is not appropriate, even in the case of children from similar cultural groups because “their different personalities, skills and life experiences demand different responses” (p.327). It is thus imperative for education institutions to raise the teachers’ awareness not only to the issues of mainstream culture, but also of other groups. This can help teachers overcome their chauvinism and arrogance and create a fair and balanced classroom environment (Malin, 1990).
- Heath, S.B. (1986). What no bedtime story means: Narrative skills at home and school. In B. Schieffelin & E. Ochs (Eds.), Language socialization across cultures (pp. 97-124). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Honan, E. & Healy, A. (2004). Using the four resource model as a map of possible practices. In A. Healy & E. Honan (Eds.), Text Next: New resources for literacy learning (pp. 37-49). Newtown NSW: Primary English Teaching Association.
- Malin, M. (1990). The Visibility and Invisibility of Aboriginal Students in an Urban Classroom. Australian Journal of Education, 34 (3), pp. 312-329.
- Smith, M.K. (2002, 2008). Howard Gardner and multiple intelligences, the encyclopedia of informal education. Retrieved December 13, 2008.