BlogWalker

Muddling through the blogosphere

February 11, 2008
by blogwalker
3 Comments

Taking a Chance on Words: Why are the Asian-American kids silent in class?

While teachers are concerned about this lack of participation in classroom talk, they are also often relatively accepting of these quiet students who don’t pose a discipline problem, who turn in homework on time, and in general, get passing grades.

I am pulling a few quotes from Carol Tateishi‘s article Taking a Chance with Words, which she has published with Rethinking Schools. Carol shares insights from her own background of growing up Asian (Japanese-American) in a post World War II era as she observes through recent visits to San Francisco Bay Area high school classrooms “the lack of participation by students of Asian descent in the oral language activities of the class.”cover_200.jpg

In interviewing Asian-American students, she found four shared qualities:

  • Oral Language tends to be used functionally
  • Speaking publicly about one’s problems is discouraged
  • That restraint in talking is valued
  • You don’t talk about feelings or personal experiences

Yet as teachers, we commonly share a very different set of beliefs:

  • Oral language can be used to negotiate meaning
  • Risk-taking in talk is valued
  • Speaking in class increases engagement
  • Classroom dialog deepens learning

Carol points out that there is more at stake than “better learning of the curriculum.” Her concern is how the lack of strong verbal skills impacts future career paths for many Asian-Americans. “It mattered in the 1940s and matters again today if Asian-Americans have the words and voice to speak up for themselves and their communities. It matters if we have lawyers, writers, activists, educators, business leaders, elected officials, and ordinary citizens who understand the power of language and use it”

I will be passing this article on to colleagues whose class rosters include Asian-Americans. As Carol Tateishi points out: it’s easy to overlook the needs of students who seemingly pose no problems.

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