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Critique of Genres at Home and at School

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Essay title: Critique of Genres at Home and at School

Nell K. Duke and Victoria Purcell-Gates insightful article, “Genres at home and at school: Bridging the known to the new” reports on genres found at home and at school for two groups of young children from low-socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds. Duke and Gates identify genres commonly found in both settings, as well as those commonly found only in one setting or the other. Children encounter many different kinds of text in their daily life. There are many different kinds of written language used for many different reasons, especially at home and at school. This article suggests ways that being aware of genres young children encounter at home and at school offer opportunities to bridge home and school literacies and enhance children’s literacy development.

Over the past two decades, emergent literacy research has revealed many children come to school with some knowledge of where print is found and what it is for. While knowledge about print does vary from child to child and from community to community, nearly all children, including those from low-SES settings, have had regular exposure to print in their homes and communities and develop important literacy knowledge because of this (Purcell-Gates, 1996).

The project that is studied in this article involves comparing data from two different research studies in the United States. In one study, 20 low-SES familes, each with at least one child between the ages of 4 and 6, were observed for one aggregated week. Observers spent time with the families in their homes and wherever else the children went. They watched specifically for any events involving written language in which the child participated or was an observer, but did not reveal the focus to the family. The observers’ notes provide information about the nature and uses of print in these children’s daily lives outside of school.

In the second study, 10 first-grade classrooms, all in low-SES settings, were each observed for four full days spread throughout a school year. On classroom visits the observer recorded, among other things, information about each classroom activity during the day that involved print in any way. This included activities in which print was the focus (e.g., during poetry reading) and activities in which is was not (e.g., on a math facts worksheet). The genre of text used during each minute of the activity was recorded. The resulting records provide information about the nature and uses of print observed and experienced by these first-grade children in school.

The report finds that these two studies have several important characteristics in common. First, they both took place in low-SES settings in the Greater Boston metropolitan area in Massachusetts. Second, they both had an explicit focus on the nature and uses of print in these settings. Third, they involved children just before and then during their first grade year of schooling. These similarities make the studies ready for comparison of home and school settings.

The two studies also have some notable differences. First, the data in both studies were collected with use of different base units of analysis. In the first study (Purcell-Gates, 1996), the base unit of analysis was the literacy event and was concerned with the number of literacy events involving a particular genre. In the second study (Duke, 2000), the base unit of analysis was the minute, and the number of minutes spent with a particular genre was counted. The difference in the base units of analysis for these studies is appropriate because the studies were conducted in different settings where different base units of analysis seemed more natural or suitable. Duke and Gates state that this difference did make genre comparisons across the two settings challenging. They addressed the challenge by first determining common and less common genres within each setting, and then comparing the more and less common genres across settings. In this way, we are able to talk about genres that were commonly used in both settings as well as genres that were commonly used in only one setting or the other.

For the purpose of this project, which is to provide a rough account of the genres used in these homes and classrooms,

Duke and Gates identified genre as using a “common-knowledge” approach. Dukes and Gates identified the genres used in the activities based on commonly known categories such as catalog, comic book, cookbook, and coupon in the case of classrooms. Depending on whether some of these closely related genre categories are counted separately or together, there were approximately 65 genres in the home settings and approximately 55 genres identified in the school settings. Figure 1, on page 33, shows the findings of the 10 most commonly used genres in each of the settings and indicates the following:

P Some genres, such as children’s books and lists,

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