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Many Pathways to literacy

Forming a bridge between family, home and community for culturally responsive teaching

Oct. 13, 2011

By Victoria Davis

Cleveland State honored the best among its teachers, researchers and staff at the President’s Fall Convocation on Oct. 6. Dr. Dinah Volk, professor in the early childhood program, was one of the faculty members who received the Distinguished Faculty Teaching Award.

Volk’s focus on early-childhood teaching strategies has led to presentations at local, national, and international levels on culturally responsive teaching and the language and literacy of bi-lingual children.

Culturally responsive teaching involves learning about the cultures and experiences of the children you’re teaching and using that information to form effective teaching strategies and learning environments.

 To make learning effective for children with diverse backgrounds, it is important to use cultural knowledge, prior experiences and learning styles to acknowledge, build, and connect children’s experiences at home and school. This approach helps expand upon the strengths of children with diverse backgrounds.

“Every child has strengths and brings resources and information from home,” Volk said. “It is important to understand families and build from the child’s strengths.”

Volk has taught preschoolers, first and second graders in the U.S. and Latin America. Teaching in Latin America made an impact on her view of education.

“I saw how similar children are all over no matter what their cultural background,” said Volk.

Volk’s research in language and literacy in bilingual children has aimed to understand the insider’s perspective on literacy and language by exploring the languages and experiences children have in school, home and in community settings.

“It is important to ask, what are community access points to literacy, and how do those aspects facilitate ethnographic research,” said Volk.

During her journey, Volk was inspired to write her co-edited book, “Many Pathways to Literacy: Young Children Learning with Siblings, Peers, Grandparents, and Communities.”

The research she has completed gave her insight on different families and communities. She formed a collaboration with two of her colleagues who were doing similar research, one working with Mexican-American and African-American children and the other with Bangladeshi-British children.

“We all saw similarities, and we started working together," said Volk.

While identifying problems with a child’s learning abilities and then finding a solution to improve their weaknesses is one approach used to teach, there is an alternative view.

“Often our role as teachers can be fixing issues," Volk said. "We can instead build from the child’s strengths, rather than using a deficit perspective."