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“Sharing time”: Children's narrative styles and differential access to literacy

  • Sarah Michaels (a1)

Abstract

A discourse-oriented classroom activity in an ethnically mixed, first grade classroom is studied from an interpretive perspective, integrating ethnographic observation and fine-grained conversational analysis. “Sharing time” is a recurring activity where children are called upon to describe an object or give a narrative account about some past event to the entire class. The teacher, through her questions and comments, tries to help the children structure and focus their discourse. This kind of activity serves to bridge the gap between the child's home-based oral discourse competence and the acquisition of literate discourse features required in written communication.

Through a detailed characterization of the children's sharing styles, evidence is provided suggesting that children from different backgrounds come to school with different narrative strategies and prosodic conventions for giving narrative accounts. When the child's discourse style matches the teacher's own literate style and expectations, collaboration is rhythmically synchronized and allows for informal practice and instruction in the development of a literate discourse style. For these children, sharing time can be seen as a kind of oral preparation for literacy. In contrast, when the child's narrative style is at variance with the teacher's expectations, collaboration is often unsuccessful and, over time, may adversely affect school performance and evaluation. Sharing time, then, can either provide or deny access to key literacy-related experiences, depending, ironically, on the degree to which teacher and child start out “sharing” a set of discourse conventions and interpretive strategies. (Urban communication, ethnic/subcultural differences in discourse style, the transition to literacy, American English.)

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“Sharing time”: Children's narrative styles and differential access to literacy

  • Sarah Michaels (a1)

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