EDUC 902: Brice Heath's Ways with Words

A reflection on Shirley Brice Heath's "Ways with Words" for EDUC 902. For more information, see this linked post.


I was touched and moved by Ways with Words. But why? This text doesn’t seem to be in a class along with the others if that is an appropriate analysis. Brice Heath offers no formula, no step-by-step instructions, no goals, per se, no direct ways to carry over a program into a classroom or school district. This left me with questions and a few observations. First, BH names a hunch I have (that I think we too often forget) about the complexity of educating. Teaching, learning - these are complicated, complex phenomena that cannot be reduced to a program such as Hirsch or Gardner’s. How can you - or can you - account for the linguistic diversity that walks into the classroom? It is not simply black and white. Second, I am concerned (in a way I was not clear about until this text) about the languaging of students. It cannot be escaped, but BH demonstrates that teachers should at least be paying more attention to this. These variables and factors that cannot be ignored; think of the difference in “story telling” between Roadville and Trackton children. What happens, this question obviously being an ethical one, when teachers take on the standardization of language? What happens when this standardization (which is inevitable) might mean a fissure in how students communicate with their parents? How do we correct for these kinds of misunderstanding (e.g. a student is “not good at x” when they simply (1) do not know what we are talking about and/or (2) do not have the language capabilities to understand what we are talking about in the way that we are talking about it)? I do not know the answers to these questions but they trouble me. I’m now rethinking every teaching experience I’ve had where I made assumptions based on a students ability to ‘talk back’ at me. This is valuable inquiry, but how do we move forward? Ethnography?



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