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How Children Learn: Getting Beyond the Deficit Myth

reviewed by Gerry Petersen - 2006

coverTitle: How Children Learn: Getting Beyond the Deficit Myth
Author(s): Terese Fayden
Publisher: Paradigm Publishers, Boulder
ISBN: 1594511047, Pages: 207, Year: 2005
Search for book at Amazon.com

In today’s society, teacher training should include preparation for interacting in a multicultural and global world.  By 2010, it is estimated the minority population (non-Caucasian and not individuals of European descent) students will become the majority in California, New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, and Florida (Banks & Lynch, 1995; Fuller, 1994; Haberman & Post, 1990).  Nonetheless, the pool of teachers is becoming more Euro-cultural (Gordon, 1995; Hodgkinson, 1989), and these teachers are products of a curriculum that is entirely ethnocentric (Banks, 1987; Manson, 2000).  Therefore, teachers need an understanding of cultures to be successful in the current and future pluralistic classrooms (Gollnick, 1992; Larke, 1990; Tran, Young, & Di Lella, 1994).  

Teaching from a multicultural perspective can be a challenging, but rewarding, educational experience for the students and teachers.  Although teacher training programs and school districts are starting to recognize this and complete training in multicultural education, there still seems to be a disconnect between training and practice.  Terese Fayden’s How Children Learn: Getting Beyond the Deficit Myth is a book that unfolds Fayden’s experience and analysis of her students’ acquisition of knowledge through their emergent writing, art, language use and development, and actions.  Fayden’s book molds theory and practice rooted in a multicultural perspective.

Drawing on her Pueblo Indian students’ culture and equity pedagogy, Fayden embarked on a year-long process with her students, describing their history, their construction of knowledge, the emergence of their writing, and how it fit together to produce an exciting and thought-provoking classroom.  Highlighting Giroux’s (1987) explanation of culture, Fayden conceptualizes culture as the symbolization of life experiences and practices.  This inclusive view of culture allows Fayden to look beyond ethnicity and race, to truly examine the “other” and helps a classroom teacher build on her students’ strengths.  Fayden embodies this and provides a practical guide to implementing social constructivist learning, teaching, and thought.

The book consists of an introduction, seven chapters, and two forwards by leading “multicultural education” educators.  Chapter 1 explains Fayden’s methodology for her study.  Drawing on qualitative methods of data collection, including Anderson, Herr, and Nihlen’s (1994) “Critical Friend” (which aides in triangulating the data), Fayden’s practitioner position allows for a unique, action-based study.

Fayden goes on to explain deficit theory and how deficit thinking was utilized in the elementary school and her kindergarten classroom.  After describing reasons for the failures in Indian education and the oppression of testing, Fayden explains cultural-differences theory.

Chapter 2 describes the community where Fayden teaches and where the research project took place, the pueblo where the Pueblo Indian children came from and the surrounding areas from which the Hispanic students came.  Specifically describing her four case study participants, Fayden explains issues such as parental background and the social actions in the classroom setting.

After examining the social construction of knowledge in Chapter 3, Fayden combines the study of the four kindergarteners’ writing table time with the knowledge constructed from social interaction.  Relying on her ability to facilitate, Fayden believe that children actively construct their own knowledge.  She “felt that children talking among themselves would yield beneficial effects. Rather than thinking of education as transference, [Fayden] preferred to promote it as transaction” (p. 43).  This statement is the summation of Fayden’s pedagogy of teaching.   

In Chapter 4, using Vygotsky’s work looking at the history of human mental development, Fayden investigates the development of writing in the kindergarten children.  To do this, socially, children learn to make meaning through dramatic play, gesturing, drawing, and artwork.  Fayden illustrates the children’s developing ability to symbolize meaning.

Chapter 5 explores the students’ emergence into writing for real purposes.  Through the use of a post office role-play based in letter writing, Fayden explored writing as a social activity.  Throughout the chapter, Fayden demonstrates the students’ manifestation of writing words, showing how the students utilized techniques like affrication, reducing, flaps, and syllabication.   

Fayden begins Chapter 6 by explaining two types of literacy through basic skills and critical thinking.  Exploring traditional models of literacy education (i.e., S. F. A.), Fayden found the modes homogenized and oppressing in the pedagogy and content.  Reflecting on Banks’ definitions of multicultural education, with her own modifications, Fayden discusses an empowered school culture.  

Drawing from equity pedagogy, Fayden concludes with recommendations for teachers.  Realizing the social constructionist approach to learning, Fayden utilized the approach to find that Indian students’ abilities can be enhanced.  While explaining how to employ the community’s culturally relevant materials, Fayden describes the principles of social constructivist learning: (a) learning is contextual, (b) learning is grounded in social interactions, (c) learning is an active and authentic process, (d) learning involves language, (e) motivation as a key component in learning, (f) there is freedom to choose and freedom to move, and (g) collaborative learning opportunities (p. 153–163).  Fayden also explains the framework for a social constructivist classroom: (a) situated learning, (b) reading and writing workshop, (c) anchored instruction, (d) games, (e) whole language versus phonics, and (f) thematic learning (pp. 163–172).

Overall, Terese Fayden’s analysis of her students, specifically the Pueblo Indian children, helped confront issues and concerns such as racism, ineffective curriculum, and alternative approaches to curriculum and pedagogy.  Hoping to develop a basis so that diverse student populations can have a rich and worthwhile education, Fayden’s critical look at teaching pedagogy will no doubt open people’s minds to look at their own teaching pedagogy.  Further, reflecting on Freire’s (1974) pedagogy of the oppressed, social learning, and her experience throughout the study, Fayden concludes that, “If underrepresented children received this support and a correspondent curriculum to that of the middle class, they would certainly have the probability of excelling” (p. 28).

The author takes us through her personal journey to grow and understand the learning and development of her children.  Fayden’s transformation throughout the process is endearing and, yet, highly scripted.  Teachers, trainers, practitioners, and researchers alike will find some interest in this book.  All will find some sliver of information in that culture is a pathway, not an obstruction, to learning.



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Banks, J. A. (1987). Teaching strategies for ethnic studies (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Banks, J. A., & Lynch, J. (Eds.). (1995). Handbook of research on multicultural education. New York: Macmillan.

Freire, P. (1974). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Seabury.

Fuller, M. L. (1994). The monocultural graduate in the multicultural environment: A challenge for teacher educators. Journal of Teacher Education, 45, 269–277.

Giroux, H. (1987). Introduction. In P. Freire & D. Macedo (Eds.), Literacy: Reading the word and the world. South Hadley, MA: Bergin & Garvey.

Gollnick, D. M. (1992). Multicultural education: Policies and practices in teacher education. In C. A. Grant (Ed.), Research and multicultural education: From the margins to the mainstream (p. 218–239). London: The Falmer Press.

Gordon, J. A. (1995). Why minority students don’t teach. Journal of Teacher Education, 45, 346–353.

Haberman, M., & Post, L. (1990). Cooperating teachers’ perceptions of the goals of multicultural education. Action in Teacher Education, 12(3), 31–35.

Hodgkinson, H. L. (1989). The same client: The demographics of education and services delivery systems. Washington, DC: The Institute of Education.

Lark, P. J. (1990). Cultural diversity awareness inventory: Assessing the sensitivity of preservice teachers. Action in Teacher Education, 12(3), 23–30.

Manson, T. J. (2000). Cross-ethnic, cross-racial dynamics of instruction: Implications or teacher education. In G. M. Duhon & T. J. Manson (Eds.), Implications for teacher education: Cross-ethnic and cross-racial dynamics of instruction (pp. 5–20). Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press.

Tran, M. T., Young, R. L., & Di Lella, J. D. (1994). Multicultural education courses and the student teacher: Eliminating stereotypical attitudes in our ethnically diverse classroom. Journal of Teacher Education, 45(3), 183–189.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 108 Number 5, 2006, p. 858-862
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 12178, Date Accessed: 5/27/2022 2:30:04 AM

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About the Author
  • Gerry Petersen

    E-mail Author
    GERRY PETERSEN taught in Iowa, Wisconsin, and Arizona. As a public school teacher, Dr. Petersen taught choral and general music, drama, reading, math, and chaired general curriculum committees, and wrote arts curricula. While completing his graduate work and teaching general music, music education, and theatre courses at the University of Arizona, Dr. Petersenís research centered on multicultural education. Active as a performer, researcher, teacher, and workshop clinician, Dr. Petersen has presented at numerous local, state, and national conferences and in-service workshops. His work has been published with the VH1 Music Studio, The Orff Echo and with the Arizona Music Educators Association. Dr. Petersenís ongoing research interests include multicultural arts education, action-based research, and arts integration and mentorship, which are utilized in his current position as an integrated arts specialist and independent consultant in the Phoenix area.
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