How Children Learn: Getting Beyond the Deficit Myth
reviewed by Gerry Petersen - 2006
In todays 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 Faydens How Children Learn: Getting Beyond the Deficit Myth is a book that unfolds Faydens experience and analysis of her students acquisition of knowledge through their emergent writing, art, language use and development, and actions. Faydens 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 Girouxs (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 Faydens methodology for her study. Drawing on qualitative methods of data collection, including Anderson, Herr, and Nihlens (1994) Critical Friend (which aides in triangulating the data), Faydens 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 Faydens pedagogy of teaching.
In Chapter 4, using Vygotskys 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 childrens 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 communitys 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. 153163). 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. 163172).
Overall, Terese Faydens 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, Faydens critical look at teaching pedagogy will no doubt open peoples minds to look at their own teaching pedagogy. Further, reflecting on Freires (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. Faydens 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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