Redefining

allisonletts's picture

One of the most interesting parts of learning new literacies is defining all of the terms. I love that sometimes, when I’m introducing a new concept to someone, I have to dig deep into my understanding of that concept to find the most fundamental vocabulary. I love the necessity for analogy--for us to figure out how to relate new terms to those we already know. And then there are the terms that take on new meanings in different contexts.

For my Music Ed class, I am learning how to tango. I know pretty much nothing right now, and my assignment for the week is to practice walking everywhere. The tango walk has so many components that I don’t have to think about in “normal” walking--lean forward; connect with yourself, the space, the floor, the music, and your partner; extend; cover more distance; be a broom. But still, when I think about it, I am just adding to a specific definition of walking.

In the Gee reading last week, we learned about discourses which he loosely defined as “costume and instructions on how to act and talk so as to take on a particular role that others will recognize.” Literacy is being able to control discourses other than those that you first used with your immediate family. I am in the middle of learning the discourse of tango, and that requires that I redefine and expand my definition of certain terms. Last semester, when I learned how to play guitar, the terms I used were sometimes familiar from singing and playing piano (note, chord), and sometimes familiar from other contexts (bridge, strum, body), but they had slightly different, more specific meanings within this new environment.

My field placement is in a first grade classroom that serves primarily minority students. The students are learning literacy in the traditional reading and writing sense, but also in the sense that the discourse of their homes is not the discourse of the school. The teacher presents lessons on pronoun-verb agreement at this age because most of the students do not speak Standard American English as their primary discourse, and the school has decided that this is important for their students’ success on standardized tests and the rest of the world. I expected to see this lesson, and I am interested to see how the conversation continues. I want to explore how to minimize the power differential between Standard American English and the varieties spoken by the students.

Comments

alesnick's picture

analogy or beyond?

These examples are so helpful as they clarify interesting similiarities and differences.  Similar across is the need to negotiate meanings, let go of some, change or hold onto others.  One difference seems to be that with tango and guitar you were choosing the new discourses.  For young kids learning "language arts," their agency is not so up front.  "The school has decided . . . " How could the conversation undergirding these lessons make space for the students, at this young age, to share in and comment on the decision?

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