Early childhood specialist and teacher researcher Cynthia Ballenger writes ‘Teaching Other People’s Children: Literacy and Learning in a Bilingual Classroom (1999)’. Ballenger’s book is a study on her experience in teaching Haitian preschoolers in an inner-city school. It presents readers with a rich analysis of the student’s attempts to engage with Ballenger on various aspects of language and literacy. This book is anchored in answering the question, “What happens when a teacher does not share a cultural background with her students?” To understand language and literacy, Ballenger adopted a teacher research methodology that consisted of recordings of classroom conversations, transcripts and memos, and discussions with parents, teachers, and children together with consultation within her peered teacher research group. The author states that this book was also written as an affirmation of Lisa Delpit’s article, ‘The Silenced Dialogue (1988)’ in which she critiques aspects of progressive pedagogy.
The book is divided into eight chapters. Chapters 1 through 3 are introductory. It introduces the school, children, and teacher. Other topics discussed are a description of the children’s cultural background, traditions and practices of the Brookline Teacher-Researcher Seminar (BTRS), and setting for the study. Chapters 4 through 7 are on the difficulties Ballenger faced in her attempt to teach literacy to these Haitian students, handling behavior management, and what was learned from these experiences. In chapter 8 the author contemplates on the methods of teacher research and how they were central to the view she had of her students.
Ballenger does a fine job in presenting us with cutting-edge teacher research. The everyday classroom struggles and triumphs are well rooted in the classroom transcripts and Ballenger’s portrayal of the children’s language and literacy struggles are brought to life vividly. Through the use of transcripts, Ballenger transported me into the everyday classroom dialogues of these Haitian children and I could feel her struggle to find the academic strengths of children whose parents did not read them bedtime stories or otherwise prepare them for school in ways that were familiar to her. I could also feel the struggle in trying to teach literacy through storybook reading and controlling behavior in a different culture and how it shaped and influenced the way she connected with these children. It also captured the influence the two cultures had on how Ballenger and her students engaged in the classroom.
Teaching Other People’s Children: Literacy and Learning in a Bilingual Classroom is a story that is not new and is seen often in bilingual classrooms today. Ballenger faced many challenges in trying to teach to students that did not share her cultural background. It is the bilingual teacher’s responsibility to study the rich culture that their students bring to the classroom. We need to step into their world to get an understanding of who they are and how they function and what elements they bring to learning. The book focused on three crucial areas that aided her success in the classroom which were concept of print, classroom behavior, and storybook reading. Once these elements were dealt with in a positive manner Ballenger and her students succeeded in learning. This book is well written to aid those new bilingual teachers beginning in the field. Others that can learn from this book are researchers, teachers, college faculty, administrators, and students who can gain a perspective on how young children and teachers from different cultural backgrounds can still come together to learn. Surely, this book will pique the interest of teacher research fans, as well.
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