Khiernssa: ‘Learning cultures’ at home and school
Khiernssa was one of 16 4-year-old children whose home and school learning was observed during their first year in an English primary school, as part of a study of the culture and pedagogy experienced by children of diverse cultural backgrounds (Brooker 2002). As the youngest child of highly aspirational Bangladeshi parents, she had experienced a formal ‘home’ curriculum which included explicit tuition in school-like knowledge, and was also steeped in the cultural activities of her family and community.
With regard to the former, she received daily tutoring from her father and siblings and was learning to recite alphabets in Bengali, Arabic and English, as well as to count, add and subtract. The family’s regular evening session, involving all three children, consisted of taking turns to read aloud from school story-books; copying out pages from these books; being tested on letters, words and spellings learned the previous day; and reciting Quranic verses. When I was present with my tape recorder, Khiernssa was encouraged to demonstrate her achievements by reciting numbers and letters into the microphone. In terms of family and com- munity knowledge, Khiernssa was apprenticed to her father’s traditional activities (growing vegetables on an allotment, tending pigeons and chickens in the back yard) as well as to the activities of the mosque and mosque school; and she was equally at home in the world of the
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LEARNING TO PLAY, OR PLAYING TO LEARN? 49
Bollywood films which she watched with her mother every day, joining in the songs. Within her own community context, she was an active and accomplished participant.
On entry to school – a colourful welcoming environment whose play- based pedagogy was rooted in an ethos of ‘having fun’, Khiernssa was assessed against the school entry profile, and by additional research instruments (Brooker 2002). On the former she appeared rather ‘unready’ for the learning activities that were on offer: she was indisposed to engage actively with toys, games and picture books, unwilling to get dirty or messy, and unresponsive to adult invitations to ‘play’ or ‘choose’. On more formal assessments she achieved some high scores, identifying 23 out of 24 letters and sounds, for instance, the direct result of her home instruction. But her transformation in participation in the learning cul- ture of the classroom was slow and reluctant. When interviewed at the end of her first term, she expressed her resistance to some important learning opportunities:
Researcher: Can you think what you like best about school? Khiernssa: Home corner! They got babies! – I like real babies,
I like Rufia’s baby, I like Amadur’s baby … Researcher: Is there anything at school you really don’t like? Khiernssa: I don’t like play water: they boys. And sand: they
boys. (see Brooker 2006)
This gender rule was applied comprehensively across the classroom, despite the fact that her neighbourhood friends were mostly male. Con- versations with her mother confirmed that her views of learning were at one with her daughter’s, and at odds with the preferred pedagogy of the classroom:
She has to work harder, you have to stop her playing … every day, play, ‘what did you do?’ – ‘play’, then after school – play