Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

A Sense of Belonging: Writing (Righting) Inclusion and Equity in a Child's Transition to School

Academic journal article Research in the Teaching of English

A Sense of Belonging: Writing (Righting) Inclusion and Equity in a Child's Transition to School

Article excerpt

"How come he's in kindergarten, and he can't spell his name?"

Brittany was eyeing the paper of her tablemate, Ta'Von, who had just asked his teacher for help writing his name. Brittany was not impressed. But Ta'Von kept his eyes on his paper, gripping the pencil with his right hand as Ms. Norton leaned over to help this left-handed child hold the pencil like her, a left-handed teacher. As Ms. Norton supported her young student, she commented to Brittany that Ta'Von could write his name; he was just learning "the kindergarten way. Just like you; you're in kindergarten but you're learning to make your a differently." And then she moved over and put her large hand over Brittany's small one as they worked together on that a.

Ta'Von, a Black child, had just entered a new place called "kindergarten," a place that was strikingly different from his play- and talk-centered, and racially diverse, preschool. These differences were realized in his new position as a racially and economically "different" child and, moreover, in his participation in new curricular and testing practices, particularly those stressing written language. Moments of socially marked difference-and of his dislocation from a place of respect-could accompany power-infused (and unequal) relations with peers. Those relational dynamics were structuring a classroom space composed of children coming together and moving apart, caught in the flow of social, academic, and physical distancing (Massey, 2005).

Like us all, Ta'Von wanted to belong-to have friends and to be one. To understand the challenges facing poor and minoritized children, educators have traced their progress up a thin ladder of benchmarked skills. Indeed, the literature on schools and young children, along with the popular press, overflows with advice about how to get the so-called "at risk" ready for the literacy skills demanded by school (e.g., see the New York Times archive of articles inspired by Hart & Risley's 1995 book on the language "gap" between children of different racial identities and socioeconomic status; see Miller & Sperry, 2012, for a critique).

In contrast, in this article, I examine Ta'Von's negotiation of a place in kindergarten, aiming to describe a child's perspective on challenges to inclusion. In so doing, I find that the staircase of skill steps becomes an oddly tenuous structure in dynamic, interactive space. Moreover, written language proves to have a role both in producing unequal relations and in countering that production.

In the following introduction, I set the situational stage for the complex case of Ta'Von's transition from a place that he explicitly "loved," his preschool, to a more pedagogically regulated and demographically "mainstream" kindergarten in a local elementary school.

Changing Educational Spaces: A Situational Overview

From Ta'Von's very first day of kindergarten, curricular and relational shifts were evident in how students could access participatory respect. In Ta'Von's preschool classroom for 3- to 5-year-olds, diversity of knowledge and know-how was taken for granted. In varied ways, all children joined in on class activities; no one commented on anyone's right to be included. In kindergarten, though, the first week of school was filled with literacy testing: a child knew or did not know, could do or could not do, met or did not meet the benchmarked skills. As Brittany knew, to be judged "ready" for kindergarten in the district, a child should be able to write his or her name and quickly identify at least 10 letters and their associated sounds, and, if "bright" (Ms. Norton's term), should have already begun to read conventionally and write words phonologically. Based on kindergarten checklists and quarterly timed tests, children were distributed linearly on the stepladder of success, as accumulating skills evidenced their march toward college and career success (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010). …

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