From Community to School: Increasing Minority Language Learners’ Access to School Literacy Practices

Dr. Lynne Wiltse, Department of Elementary Education, University of Alberta
(Seminar was held on Wednesday, November 11th).

As a classroom teacher who taught in Aboriginal communities for many years and then as a researcher working with minority language students, I have long questioned why particular groups of minority students tend to under-perform in school. While single-factor explanations of school failure among minority children are clearly inadequate, many researchers concur that school requires specific forms of academic language or discourse that potentially disadvantage minority students. Educators and researchers have responded to this challenge with a variety of early intervention projects; however, studies show that students who make gains through early interventions often begin to experience difficulty with academic literacies during the intermediate grades. Drawing on a ‘diversity as a resource’ perspective, I will explain how students’ ‘funds of knowledge’ from home and community networks were utilized to reshape school literacy practices in a recently completed school-university collaborative study. The research project examined ways to merge the out-of-school literacy resources with school literacy practices for minority language learners who struggle with academic literacies, but do not fit the typical profile found in the academic literature (in particular, Canadian Aboriginal students). In this presentation, I will also discuss study findings as to how to make in-service as well as pre-service teacher education more inclusive of non-mainstream students, families and communities.