Monday, June 9, 2008

" her mother and father was arguing..."

In Lee's "Is October Brown Chinese" article, she addresses African American linguistics, as an aside to her thesis. Episode 1 consists of teacher generated questions. Episode 2 offers both student and teacher generated questions. Episode 3 relies upon student generated questions and discussions, using the teacher as a facilitator of discussion to ensure that all voices are heard. This model of scaffolded instruction develops critical thinking skills. Lee's students engage in an intellectually stimulating discussion (developmentally appropriate) centered around literary devices. Through scaffolding Lee notices that "Students are talking at the same time, responding to one another, responding to several questions on the floor at once. The role of the teacher has dramatically shifted from one who directs conversation in the classroom to that of a coach..." (108). Immediately after this observation, Lee provides a an aside remind us that "Although not the specific focus of this article, it is important to note that the talk among the students is entirely in African American English Vernacular, not simply in terms of vernacular syntax forms, but more importantly in terms of the performance of the discourse. Students signify on one another, display body language for emphasis, and reflect a rhythm and prosody in their speech that is dramatic and culturally Black" (108). When comparing these quotes I noticed that Lee presents and interesting suggestion. Student centered instruction should reflect the cultural needs and expressions of the students, and should be validated by their surroundings. In class discussions I encourage students to express themselves freely, but in writing I ask that they use Standard English. I find this contradicting and culturally biased at times, but with State Standards and Regents Exams, I'm stuck. Lee's classroom appeared to focus on critical thinking skills, but lacked grammar & conventions. Where's the middle ground? Often times we spend countless hours creating a culturally relevant curriculum that is believed to attract student attention and stimulate engagement. After reading Lee's experiences, it seems more useful to create scaffolded, student-centered lessons with any text. I'm not suggesting that culturally relevant texts are not important, but that maybe we should spend more time balancing our content with effective strategies.

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