Critique of Nell K. Duke and Victoria Purcell-Gates' Genres at Home and at School: Bridging the Known to the New

Critique of Nell K. Duke and Victoria Purcell-Gates' Genres at Home and at School: Bridging the Known to the New

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Critique of Nell K. Duke and Victoria Purcell-Gates' Genres at Home and at School: Bridging the Known to the New Nell K. Duke and Victoria Purcell-Gates insightful article, "Genres at home and at school: Bridging the known to the new" reports on genres found at home and at school for two groups of young children from low-socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds. Duke and Gates identify genres commonly found in both settings, as well as those commonly found only in one setting or the other. Children encounter many different kinds of text in their daily life. There are many different kinds of written language used for many different reasons, especially at home and at school. This article suggests ways that being aware of genres young children encounter at home and at school offer opportunities to bridge home and school literacies and enhance children's literacy development.

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Over the past two decades, emergent literacy research has revealed many children come to school with some knowledge of where print is found and what it is for. While knowledge about print does vary from child to child and from community to community, nearly all children, including those from low-SES settings, have had regular exposure to print in their homes and communities and develop important literacy knowledge because of this (Purcell-Gates, 1996).
The project that is studied in this article involves comparing data from two different research studies in the United States. In one study, 20 low-SES familes, each with at least one child between the ages of 4 and 6, were observed for one aggregated week. Observers spent time with the families in their homes and wherever else the children went. They watched specifically for any events involving written language in which the child participated or was an observer, but did not reveal the focus to the family. The observers' notes provide information about the nature and uses of print in these children's daily lives outside of school.
In the second study, 10 first-grade classrooms, all in low-SES settings, were each observed for four full days spread throughout a school year. On classroom visits the observer recorded, among other things, information about each classroom activity during the day that involved print in any way. This included activities in which print was the focus (e.g., during poetry reading) and activities in which is was not (e.g., on a math facts worksheet). The genre of text used during each minute of the activity was recorded. The resulting records provide information about the nature and uses of print observed and experienced by these first-grade children in school.
The report finds that these two studies have several important characteristics in common. First, they both took place in low-SES settings in the Greater Boston metropolitan area in Massachusetts. Second, they both had an explicit focus on the nature and uses of print in these settings. Third, they involved children just before and then during their first grade year of schooling. These similarities make the studies ready for comparison of home and school settings.
The two studies also have some notable differences. First, the data in both studies were collected with use of different base units of analysis. In the first study (Purcell-Gates, 1996), the base unit of analysis was the literacy event and was concerned with the number of literacy events involving a particular genre. In the second study (Duke, 2000), the base unit of analysis was the minute, and the number of minutes spent with a particular genre was counted. The difference in the base units of analysis for these studies is appropriate because the studies were conducted in different settings where different base units of analysis seemed more natural or suitable. Duke and Gates state that this difference did make genre comparisons across the two settings challenging. They addressed the challenge by first determining common and less common genres within each setting, and then comparing the more and less common genres across settings. In this way, we are able to talk about genres that were commonly used in both settings as well as genres that were commonly used in only one setting or the other.
For the purpose of this project, which is to provide a rough account of the genres used in these homes and classrooms,
Duke and Gates identified genre as using a "common-knowledge" approach. Dukes and Gates identified the genres used in the activities based on commonly known categories such as catalog, comic book, cookbook, and coupon in the case of classrooms. Depending on whether some of these closely related genre categories are counted separately or together, there were approximately 65 genres in the home settings and approximately 55 genres identified in the school settings. Figure 1, on page 33, shows the findings of the 10 most commonly used genres in each of the settings and indicates the following:
P Some genres, such as children's books and lists, were commonly used in both settings. These genres may already be forging links for these students between home and school literacies and may be particularly well positioned to further forge them.
P Some genres, such as the biblical text and letters were commonly used only in the home setting. Children's familiarity with these genres upon entering school may not directly benefit them in knowledge or disposition in school literacy tasks.
P Some genres, including worksheets and journals, were commonly used only in the school setting. Students may be particularly unfamiliar with these genres early in schooling and my required additional assistance to work successfully with them.
Figure 2 shows a larger array of genres found in the two settings. The genres found in only one setting or the other are located only in that setting's circle; the intersecting area of the circles contains genres found in both settings. Several observations can be made on the basis of this figure.
P There were fewer genres found in both settings than in only one setting or the other. Furthermore, the frequency of use of the genres often did no match across settings. So, for example, individual sentences were very common in the classrooms but fairly rare in the homes. Maps, on the other hand, were commonly read in the homes but not in the classrooms, although again they are found to some degree in both settings.
P With respect to the genres found only in the school setting, many are probably not found in most homes or in settings outside of classrooms. These types of texts have been referred to as "school-only" if their primary purpose is to learn or teach literacy skills in a school context, as compared to those genres that people read and write outside of a formal literacy-learning context (Purcell-Gates).
P Among other genres found only in the home setting, many, such as comics, trading cards, and game-related print, are primarily for entertainment. Others, such as recipes, mail, and receipts, are part of what has been referred to as "daily living routines," which focus on daily chores and on maintaining a household (Purcell-Gates, 1996).
In conclusion of the article, teachers can build a cumulative literacy culture in the classroom that draws on each child's home experience with print while simultaneously expanding the two worlds.
In my experience so far with literacy acquisition, genre provides one powerful way to think about literacies. In Frank Smith's book, Understanding Reading, Smith states that the term genre originally referred to different types of writing, such as comedy, tragedy, epic. More recently the term came to refer to different kinds of media-newspapers, periodicals, novels- all which have their own conventions. Current emphasis is on complete settings, including such matters as conversations and classroom procedures. The core is structure or organization- of the text alone or of the situation. This definition links the function of a text to its features. An excellent example of this link of function to features is stated in Ken Goodman's book, Ken Goodman on Reading. Goodman uses a theater ticket as an example of a particular type of a more general genre. The point he makes is that we read a ticket differently than we do most text: we seek out the information we need and ignore the rest. It's easy to see that the form of the theater ticket genre results from the constraints created by its use.
Another example of this link of function of a text to its features is a coupon. Coupons are used in a fairly narrow type of situation and have particular features, at least in part, because they are used in only that type situation. The functions and features of text are inextricably linked. Genre provides a powerful lens to examine literacies to which children are exposed at home and at school.
It seems there are several ways an awareness of the genres that students experience both at home and at school might enhance children's literacy instruction. As a future teacher, it is not hard to see that I will have to pay particular attention to children's level of understanding of functions and features of genres likely to be new to them. We must find out what kinds of prints are familiar to children and build on those.
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