Research on Narrative Structures Among African
Americans and West Africans
Researchers have described African American children's narrative structures as complex as those of middle=class European American children, although the structures differ (Michaels, 1981; Michaels & Foster, 1985; Michaels & Collins, 1984).
Michaels and Cook-Gumperz (1979) conducted a study focusing on “show and tell” narratives (later termed sharing. time narratives) with children in a first=grade classroom in Berkeley, California. When differentiating between European American and African American, Michaels (1981) used the terms topic centered and topic associating, respectively. Topic centered narratives were defined as “tightly organized centering on a single clearly identifiable topic and thematic development … characteristically achieved through a linear progression of information” (p. 428), whereas topic associating narratives were a “discourse consisting of a series of implicitly associated personal anecdotes” (p. 429).
Researchers looked not only at the children but also at the teacher's role in sharing. Michaels and Cook-Gumperz (1979) found that the teacher's comments collaborated and helped with narrative discourse if both the teacher and the child agreed in their expectations of what comprised a good narrative. Within the sharing time in the classroom, Michaels and Cook-Gumperz reported that the teacher had difficulty scaffolding the narratives of the African American children but not with the European American. Also, the teacher interrupted and restated directions to the African American children more often than for the European American.