Cultural Diversity at Home
It has long been recognized that cultural variables influence how children present themselves, understand the world, and interpret experiences. Culture also affects the experiences through which children 's earliest literacy and number knowledge are acquired. Some of these experiences may be explicitly focused on encouraging learning, such as reading books to children or instructing them to count. More common are activities that provide implicit, unintentional support for various types of learning in the context of shared everyday activities, such as measuring ingredients when baking cookies or counting change at the grocery store. Significant, as well, are the adult activities that children witness and interpret as enjoyable or useful because their parents and relatives engage in them, such as reading for enjoyment or telling stories.
As the preschool and school-age populations have become increasingly linguistically and culturally diverse, interest in understanding the role that variation in children's home-based learning opportunities plays in fostering readiness for school has also increased. Research on early literacy acquisition has revealed the ample repertoire of literacy learning that occurs long before formal instruction is introduced in elementary school (Chall, 1983; Heath, 1983; Teale, 1986; Snow, 1983; Teale and Sulzby, 1986). Similar evidence has emerged regarding the importance of early experiences for numerical knowledge (Griffin, Case, and Sandieson, 1992; Hiebert, 1986; Siegler and Robinson, 1982). Across every academic domain, these experiences are deeply embedded in the culture of the family and the community:
they occur less as isolated lessons in reading or counting, for example, than in the context of on-going activities of family life.
This research strongly suggests that efforts to create effective classroom environments for young children from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds should be based, in part, on knowledge about the role that culture plays in shaping children's learning opportunities and experiences at home. From teachers' standpoints, it is critical to identify those aspects of children's cultural backgrounds that have the greatest relevance for children's adjustment, motivation, and learning at school.
The workshop participants suggested many possibilities as important factors. They fell into three categories: (1) parents' attitudes and beliefs about early learning, (2) the nature and extent of parent-child interactions and other experiences that support the kinds of learning that schools tend to expect from children, and (3) social conventions that affect the ways in which knowledge and skills pertinent to early learning are communicated among and used by family members. (The primary language used at home is, without question, also a profoundly important factor that affects children's adjustment to school; the workshop discussions that addressed this topic are summarized in the next chapter.)
The nature of literacy and numeracy interactions in the home are a direct reflection of parents' views about how children learn to read, write, use numbers, and acquire other competencies. Parents hold implicit theories of learning that affect whether and how they attempt to influence the literacy and learning of their children before they enter formal schooling (Stipek, Milburn, Galluzzo, and Daniels, 1992). These beliefs about what parents should do and what teachers should do manifest themselves in behavior at home and in parents' relations with their children's teachers (Goldenberg, Reese, and Gallimore, 1992).
Tim Shanahan, for example, reported that his sample of low-income Latino mothers from the Chicago area believed that efforts to encourage young children to read or write before they enter school are inappropriate and may actually interfere with school learning. Books are often considered treasured possessions and deliberately kept out of the reach of young children. These parents, it was noted, do not appear to perceive that their children's attempts to scribble or talk as they leaf through books have significance for literacy development and so do not elaborate on these occurrences as a teaching opportunity.
Claude Goldenberg described a home literacy intervention with low-income families from Mexico and Central America, in which he and his colleagues introduced simple but meaningful books (libritos) into the homes
of kindergarten students. The books served to increase parents' use of positive feedback and questioning about letter and word recognition during reading, but parents did not increase their attempts to encourage their children to find meaning in the text or to pretend-read as an enjoyable activity. These parents treated the books in accordance with their views of how children learn to read, namely, through the repetitious and accurate practice of letters, syllables, and words. To expect them to do more would have involved changing their beliefs about their role, about how they view learning, and about the purpose for which they engaged in the task (Gallimore and Goldenberg, 1993).
A general theme of this discussion distinguished the value that parents place on learning and school achievement from how they express this value. The workshop participants, as a group, had studied families from a wide range of cultural backgrounds. They all stressed that the parents they had studied firmly believe in the importance of education and its instrumental role in facilitating their children 's economic well-being; the parents also had high aspirations for their children's school achievement. None had observed the disaffection and devaluing of education that has been documented in the literature on adolescents (Matuti-Bianchi, 1986; Ogbu, 1982, 1993; Ogbu and Matuti-Bianchi, 1986).
Knowing that parents have theories of learning that are not necessarily consistent with the prevailing research knowledge about prereading or premath development or with the theories held by their children 's teachers raises the question of what to do: Should parents be trained in the knowledge base that presently guides early educational practice? Should schools adopt educational practices that accommodate parents ' understandings? Or some combination of the two? These are among the thorny issues raised by the research on parents' beliefs.
HOME EXPERIENCES THAT SUPPORT LEARNING
Research has contributed substantially to identifying the beneficial experiences that parents provide at home to facilitate their children 's achievement in U.S. classrooms. This research encompasses the explicit provision of instructional materials and activities, inadvertent teaching that occurs in the context of everyday activities, and children 's observational learning from the activities of older siblings and adults. However, this is primarily a correlational literature: It has not demonstrated cause-effect relationships, but, rather, associations between certain features of home environments and children's early learning in the U.S. context.
Children benefit from environments that have high amounts of rich discourse and print-related experiences. Exposure to meaningful, age-appropriate reading experiences that children can both observe and engage in
is related to literacy development (Beals, deTemple, and Dickinson, 1994; Gallimore and Goldenberg, 1993). Rather than simply reading the printed words in a child's book, for example, parents foster early literacy by engaging the child in conversations about the text and encouraging the child's attempts to pretend to read and write. Literacy development is also encouraged when children are asked for information with open-ended questions that challenge them to use reasoning skills rather than simply to find the “right” answer. It is not the simple presence or absence of a particular activity, such as storybook reading, that most affects children's early learning. Rather, it is the language and social interaction that surround such activities that are associated with the early acquisition of literacy and numeracy skills.
David Dickinson described his work with Catherine Snow on the environmental supports at home and in preschool that enable children from low-income backgrounds to acquire literacy skills (Dickinson and Beals, 1994; Snow and Dickinson, 1991). Snow has focused on features of home settings in which the types of discussions that facilitate language development are most likely to occur. In some communities, mealtimes appear to offer an especially rich setting within which children develop literacy-related language skill. It is during these conversations that children hear varied vocabulary, are encouraged to answer questions and to speculate about past and future events, and to practice their narrative skills. Children who experienced a higher proportion of this variety of mealtime talk at 4 years of age showed more advanced language development at age 5 than did children whose mealtime conversations were more linguistically limited (Dickinson and Beals, 1994). Conversations among family members afford children the opportunity to improve their vocabulary, to gain experience with explanatory talk, and to practice telling stories.
Sharon Griffin reported on home activities that predict children's early sense of numbers. Beneficial activities include board games and card games that involve numbers, as well as the engagement of children in conversations about numbers in the context of other activities, such as shopping, sorting laundry, or picking up toys. Children with ample exposure to these experiences were found to enter kindergarten with more intuitive knowledge of numbers than did their classmates from families in which these opportunities were notably rare (Case and Griffin, 1990; Griffin, Case, and Capodilupo, in press).
To what extent are these home experiences available to young children? What are the major sources of variation in children's exposure to the social, intellectual, and material resources that are directly related to the norms and expectations of schools? The workshop participants were in agreement on several points. First, social class and level of parents' education, as distinct from ethnicity and nationality, appear to be the more potent determinants of
children's home learning experiences. For example, in the children studied by Sharon Griffin and her colleagues—which included Portuguese immigrants in Toronto, Caribbean immigrants in Massachusetts, African Americans in California, and white Canadians and Americans in major cities —social class, rather than ethnic group, differentiated the children who had more or less exposure to the premath experiences that she found to be so important. Luis Laosa also emphasized the role of social class. He commented that school, itself, is a culture. Parents who have acquired high levels of education and have thus had ample exposure to the values, expectations, and activities of the school culture are generally better equipped to prepare their own children for school. Indeed, an extensive literature that encompasses African American, Mexican American, and Anglo families has revealed that parents who vary in their educational levels also vary in the extent to which they engage in precisely those experiences that are most closely associated with children's early and sustained literacy growth (Chall, 1983; Feagans and Farran, 1982; Heath, 1983; Laosa, 1978, 1980).
Second, children in low-income homes were exposed to a range of literacy materials and activities, such as letter-writing and informational uses of print material (e.g., newspapers, telephone books, menus), but reading material was not very plentiful and usually consisted of newspapers and adult books; children's books were much more sparse. In one study, for example, 40 percent of low-income Latino homes reported having no children's books (Goldenberg, 1989).
As discussed below (“What Children Bring to School”), the relatively limited home literacy experiences of low-income children are reflected in their limited literacy knowledge and skills when they begin kindergarten (see Goldenberg, Reese, and Gallimore, 1992). Goldenberg, for example, reported that 60 to 70 percent of the low-income Latino children he studied could not name or recognize any letters at kindergarten entry.
The workshop participants noted that further reiteration of these associations comes perilously close to the deficit orientation that has plagued the literature on social-class differences in home learning environments. Yet to ignore these findings is also problematic in the context of U.S. schools that often take certain experiences and intuitive knowledge for granted, fail to teach it, and therefore leave some children behind from the moment they begin formal instruction. With these tensions in mind, the participants agreed that efforts to improve low-income children's success in school must attend to the differential learning opportunities that exist between home and school for many low-income children, many of whom are also from non-Anglo or immigrant backgrounds.
A growing literature is documenting ways in which children from different cultural backgrounds are exposed to different conversational rules, conventions for displaying respect, and other patterns of social interaction that may have significant effects on the ease and comfort with which they make the transition to school. Several examples from this literature were discussed at the workshop.
Conversational rules and discourse patterns appear to vary widely across cultures. Barbara Rogoff discussed how different cultural groups are comfortable with differing amounts of conversation and, accordingly, with silence. In some cultures, individuals who talk a lot are considered smart; in others, they are considered foolish. This affects how much children will talk and how comfortable they are likely to be with demands to talk more or less. In some cultures, children are treated by adults as conversational partners; in others, children adopt the role of observer, and information is communicated primarily through shared activity rather than in the context of lessons or explanations (Rogoff, Mistry, Goncu, and Mosier 1993). The role and place of interruptions also vary across cultures. In some, frequent interruptions are expected as part of active engagement in a conversation. In others, long pauses between comments and between questions and answers are more the norm.
Questioning behavior appears to be heavily imbued with cultural meaning. Patricia Greenfield discussed her work comparing the amount and meaning of questioning behavior by Japanese and U.S. students (Greenfield and Cocking, 1994). Japanese students were reluctant to ask questions because this behavior has negative connotations. It suggests that the student did not work hard enough to understand the material or that s/he is implicitly criticizing the teacher's ability to communicate information. In contrast, U.S. students asked many questions, presumably because they value this behavior as a means of demonstrating involvement and interest.
Conversational rules also express patterns of respect and authority that, in turn, vary across cultures. In some cultures, because age is the major determinant of patterns of respect, children are hesitant to question their teachers or to act as their conversational partners. Most U.S. classrooms, in contrast, tend to value children's willingness to engage in verbal exchanges with their teachers and classmates. Lisa Delpit's work (1988) has revealed the intricate association between some African American children's respect for their teachers and the degree of authority that the teachers express in their classroom interactions. This authority is often communicated through highly directive and didactic methods that have been portrayed as inappropriate by white, middle-class standards. Low-income Chicano families, as well, have been observed to rely on highly directive socializing and teach-
ing tactics (Laosa, 1978). Work with Native American students, in contrast, has revealed children's belief that they should be responsible for their own learning. Highly directive teachers appear to undermine these beliefs and, in so doing, undermine their own authority in the eyes of these relatively autonomous children.
Culture plays a complex and ubiquitous role in shaping children's earliest learning opportunities and experiences in the home. Parent 's beliefs about when and how children learn school-related skills, their daily interactions with their children, and the social rules that guide these interactions combine in intricate ways to create what Luis Moll has termed “funds of knowledge” that are based in culture (Moll, Amanti, Neff, and Gonzalez, 1992). However, efforts to specify the specific mechanisms or dimensions of culture that carry its role in learning are in their infancy. The workshop participants defined culture as a term that encompasses economic, ethnic, racial, social structural, and other dimensions that constitute a constellation of influences on children's early learning opportunities. It is critical when examining the research evidence to take careful note of the investigator's definition of culture and its implications for the results from any particular study.
A persistent problem in much of this research is drawing inferences about noneconomic dimensions of culture when, in fact, social class may be the more influential variable. Are differences that are attributed to children's ethnic backgrounds or immigrant status, for example, more accurately ascribed to the educational backgrounds of their parents, as suggested by Laosa? Efforts to disentangle these differing definitions of culture are particularly difficult in the United States, given selective immigration patterns and persistent poverty among African American, Latino, and Native American populations.
Some culturally shaped early learning opportunities have been found to be more conducive than others to preparing children for success in schools, which are typically not designed with diverse configurations of students in mind. One of the challenges that this poses to early childhood educators, in particular, involves striking a balance between demonstrating respect for cultural differences and preparing children to participate successfully in formal school settings (Prince and Lawrence, 1993). A starting point for addressing this dilemma involves understanding how children's cultural backgrounds affect the skills, knowledge, and expectations that they bring to school.