BOX 6.3 Talking in Class

A speech-language pathologist working in an Inuit school (in northern Canada) asked a principal—who was not an Inuit—to compile a list of children who had speech and language problems in the school. The list contained a third of the students in the school, and next to several names the principal wrote, “Does not talk in class.” The speech-language pathologist consulted a local Inuit teacher for help determining how each child functioned in his or her native language. She looked at the names and said, “Well raised Inuit children should not talk in class. They should be learning by looking

When the speech-language pathologist asked that teacher about one toddler she was studying who was very talkative and seemed to the non-Inuit researcher to be very bright, the teacher said: “Do you think he might have a learning problem? Some of these children who don’t have such high intelligence have trouble stopping themselves. They don’t know when to stop talking” (Crago, 1988:219).

Classroom norms can also encourage modes of participation that may be unfamiliar to some students. For example, some groups rely on learning by observation and listening and then becoming involved in ongoing activities; school-like forms of talking may be unfamiliar for the children whose community has only recently included schools (Rogoff et al., 1993); see Box 6.3.

The sense of community in classrooms is also affected by grading practices, and these can have positive or negative effects depending on the students. For example, Navajo high school students do not treat tests and grades as competitive events the way that Anglo students do (Deyhle and Margonis, 1995). An Anglo high school counselor reported that Navajo parents complained about their children being singled out when the counselor started a “high achiever” bulletin board and wanted to put up the pictures of students with B averages or better. The counselor “compromised” by putting up happy stickers with the students’ names on them. A Navajo student, staring at the board, said “The board embarrasses us, to be stuck out like that” (Deyhle and Margonis, 1995:28).

More broadly, competition among students for teacher attention, approval, and grades is a commonly used motivator in U.S. schools. And in some situations, competition may create situations that impede learning. This is especially so if individual competition is at odds with a community ethic of individuals’ contributing their strengths to the community (Suina and Smolkin, 1994).

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