Illuminating Literacies Beyond the Classroom: Women as Bricoleurs Negotiating Social Class and Multiple Discourses


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Virginia Tech


Educators often face a problem of the lack of ongoing contact between the school and students' homes (Delpit, 1995; Delgado-Gaitan, 1991; McCaleb, 1994). Literacy development at school is facilitated by teachers' knowledge of students' home-based discourses (Auerbach, 1989; McCaleb, 1994; Voss, 1996). This dissertation research responded to the question: What do educators need to understand and appreciate about their students' home or living context in order to create partnerships with parents and young students that will nurture literacy growth?

This research is an ethnographic study. I spent one school year as a participant observer in a family literacy program. Young mothers who never finished high school and had children under the age of eight attended this program twice weekly. I observed during the family literacy sessions, recorded field notes, and conducted formal and informal interviews with nine family literacy program participants. I visited four women in their homes and conducted interviews. All interviews were tape recorded which were then transcribed. I collected copies of women's written pieces produced during the family literacy program.

Data analysis and interpretation (Coffey & Atkinson, 1996) revealed themes and issues consistent within each of six women's stories. The deficiency model (Auerbach, 1989; Purcell-Gates, 1995; Sleeter, 1996) was challenged as each women demonstrated resourcefulness, articulated goals, the use of multiple literacies, commitment to their families' welfare, support and initiative in their children's schooling and a keen awareness of social class barriers.

Repositioning our perspectives (Sleeter, 1996) enables educators to discover the strengths in students' home discourses that include multiple literacies (Voss, 1996) and other funds of knowledge (Moll & Greenberg, 1990). We need to move our lens from that of critique and judgement to that of discovery. Each student comes to school with an abundance of family and home experiences that need opportunities for expressions and learning. The pressures of negotiating home discourses with the dominant discourse (Gee, 1990; Sleeter, 1996) create reservoirs of strength for many families that is often masked by non-middle class appearances.



multiple literacies, social class, funds of knowledge, school and home partnership, literacy