Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Thoughts on Culture in Literacy

After recently watching a wonderful interpretation of Shaun Tan's Arrival, which can be watched by following the link, I gained a new perspective on teaching second language learners and educating children from various cultures and countries. Tan's novel, which is not completely shown in the YouTube video, follows a man as he throws himself to a completely foreign and new country. He experiences new customs, language, and interactions. These differences limit him from being able to have a job, except from a mindless factory job. Tan's thoughts pretty accurately reflect our view on immigrants in America. We seem to have this underlying idea that if English cannot be sufficiently spoken, a person's worth diminishes. When thinking about our students in our classrooms, do we hold these same biases? Should our English language learners be required to take assessments in English, or provided opportunities in their native language. It is a debate that is hot in education today. Tan continues his story, outlining the bitter struggles the man endures, but eventually he is able to earn enough money to send his family so that they join him in the new county.

The man's language abilities are not seen as worthy of holding a non-factory job, and the question of "what it means to be literate" can be pondered through this story. If we say that literacy is a means of communicating, then this man is literate in his own sign language and his native language, but not the countries main language. Is he literate? Are our second language learners literate if they cannot speak English, but achieve milestones in their first language? These types of questions need to be considered when thinking about teaching literacy in early education. Our own thoughts can be reflected in the manor in which we teach all types of learners. Thinking about establishing an inclusion setting, a community-based model in the classroom, and an anti-bias approach in my classroom, I can only come to the conclusion that requiring English language learners to solely communicate literacy in English is wrong. As teachers, we can think of creative and innovative ways to connect the first language to the classroom in a meaningful way.

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