As I have mentioned, I am currently reading A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby Payne. I am reading this book mainly because my new assignment is the Vice-Principal of an Inner-City school in my district.
I found Chapter 2 – The Role of Language and Story – to be quite interesting and informative, both educationally and personally. I had never really been introduced to the different Registers of Language. VERY interesting. Apparently all languages follow 5 registers: Frozen, Formal, Consultative, Casual, and Intimate (pg. 27). She goes on to state that
“minority students and poor students cannot use formal register. It is further complicated by the fact that to get a well paying job, it is expected that one will be able to use formal register. Ability to use formal register is a hidden rule of the middle class … and allows one to score well on tests and do well in school and higher education.” (pg. 28)
This made me really think about how many other “middle class” hidden rules I must be missing out on growing up in poverty. Hmmmmm….
Furthermore, Ruby Payne describes discourse patterns as being organized in two manners. She writes,
“In the formal register of English, the pattern is to get straight to the point. In the casual register, the pattern is to go around and around and finally get to the point. For students who have no access to formal register, educators become frustrated with the tendency of these students to meander almost endlessly through a topic.” (pg. 28)
Wow! This made a lightbulb go off in my head. I often find myself doing this meandering and wondering why. Could it be a result of growing up in that lower social class? I had never thought of in this way before. I do, though, find myself, more and more, getting straight to the point in different circumstances because there just isn’t time for this meandering. But, give me time, and that is what I tend to do because that is what I am most comfortable doing, I suppose.
Ruby Payne talks about how parent-teacher conferences can be affected by this discrepancy of discourse patterns between the parents with a lower socio-economic status and the classroom teacher. She writes,
“parent-teacher conferences tend to be misunderstood on both sides. Teachers want to get right to the point; parents, particularly those from poverty, need to beat around the bush first. When teachers cut the conversation and get right to the point, parents view that as being rude and non-caring.” (pg. 30)
This is very interesting because I just think back on how many parent-teacher conferences, or talks with parents as an administrator, have I had with this uncomfortable “beating around the bush”.
While Payne goes on to describe how important it is to teach the formal register to the students, she does not discuss (at least not so far) what to do with the parents in this respect. Use of the Formal Register is not something that one has time to teach the parents of these students, necessarily. How must we deal with these differences so that we gain the confidence, trust, and commitment from the parents? Do we then try, when time permits, to have more discourse in the casual register which they are more comfortable? Do we try to make more small talk, “beating around the bush”?
My answer is yes.
This demonstrates the importance of having an Open Door policy and being seen outside of your office: on the school grounds before/after school talking with parents and students, in the hallways, at sporting events, etc… The time you spend building these relationships in the casual register will mean a great deal when things have to be addressed together in the more often time-constrained, formal register.
It’s all about building those strong relationships, not only with the students, but also with the families!
Wouldn’t you agree?