“Ways with Words” by Shirley Brice Heath (1983)

A good book to read, but you need a critical Professor in Rhetoric to accompany you reading this is you are not from the United States. I like this book.

Two communities that were obvious in Heath’s ethnography studies: Roadville and Trackton. Both of these communities seem to share similar circumstances, but the core principle living was not similarly portrayed. In these two communities, an interesting aspect that is mainly exposed by Heath is the ways language evolved from the early generation to the next one. Since my reading is until Trackton, I found that the social circumstances influence the process of how children acquire certain language abilities. It means that the process of reaching literacy competent was largely influenced by the society. As Heath states, “The ways of living, eating, sleeping, worshiping, using space, and filling time which surrounded these language learners would have to be accounted for as part of the milieu in which the processes of language learning took place” (3). When I come to reading the first session until the third session of Part I of her book, I found logical connection. The ability to use language properly is dominantly triggered by the society in which a child lives, especially the parents. For instance, we could see from what is happening with the community in Trackton. Their language spoken system tends to be the same, although particular individual may find new interesting influences from town-blacks.

From Heath’s ethnography studies, the variety of domestic problems and the dynamics of financial matters also shape how literary comes to emerge in such society. Then, if the question is, “What is literacy?” in this context, then, the answer is that literacy is the ways in which the possessing of language ability could possibly adjust the improvement of such community to a better state. These poor black people might live in their limited social circumstances, but to certain degrees they share the same principle, which is coping and working to live. As the times pass by, these two communities emerge into new forms, in which they give significant influence each other, as I may suppose.

Children Language Acquisition and Literacy

The detail description of Heath’s ethnography studies has enriched my horizon in terms of knowing that what we see and hear can be used as tools in creating new knowledge empirically. From the beginning of this book to the end, a vivid reader can see that Heath has written more than what she has composed in her book. What I mean by saying this is that she might have been writing complex draft, arranging relevant materials, and composing all events chronologically. At the end, I can see the link between the title of the book Ways with Words: Language, Life, and Work in Communities and Classrooms with all details in the book. I see this through the connection between children language acquisition and their coming to literacy.

I can see the connection between social circumstances and literacy toward children language acquisition in these statements about children of the two communities. “Children in Roadville grow up surrounded by print: their room decorations, homemade alphabet quilts, books, toys, and church experiences give them an abundance of reading materials”; meanwhile, “Trackton children have no books, and they find their reading in tasks which evolve for them in the house, the plaza, and at the neighborhood store” (Heath 233). We already know that literacy cannot be built in a vacuüm. It is wide open. It is triggered by external factors of an individual. When children come to this world, they will learn to grasp everything around them, especially from parents. However, as children develop their own thinking after looking at different things in their life, they begin to ask questions. The answers of their questions can only be answered through the state of inquiry they have. This is a form of literacy in critical thinking.

To my mind, Heath has described all series of the complexity of needs in life that can influence how someone can come into literacy. Many types of society in the world face the same process as well. The needs to survive and to achieve many things in life have made us creative in fulfilling those needs. We speak, we exist. We write, we alive.

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The above writings were written for my Literacy class at SIUe. I took the class in Fall 2012.

Information about the book:

Heath, Shirley Brice. Ways With Words: Language, Life, and Work in Communities and Classrooms. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983. Print.

One thought on ““Ways with Words” by Shirley Brice Heath (1983)

  1. Pingback: How do you define literacy? - Skills Mastery

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