Coach Bombay’s Kids Learn to Write: Children’s Appropriation of Media Material for School Literacy by Anne Haas Dyson
In this article Dyson elaborates on the media’s influence on the development of literacy among children. Here Dyson explains literacy and its media-saturated nature among children in both official and unofficial writing circumstances and how they are combined. The “official” field is guided by the literacy curriculum (in school) and the “unofficial” by the popular media, in this case sports. She also talks about how language usage reflects our social role and status. Furthermore how speaking and writing are subject to issues of identity and belonging mainly between children. Dyson’s article generally focuses on a study she conducted on a group of six first-grade African American students in which she explained how learning to write involves work of the imagination on the part of both children and teachers, and the major role which the media plays in doing so. The main subject of her study was Marcel, a student whose school work usually displayed the influence of media through his love and knowledge of football.
We often hear warnings about the effects of television on young people’s abilities to read and write. What is important, when it comes to considering how our writing pedagogies can respond to students’ experiences with television is to recognize the complexity of the articulations between the media and print literacy. In her writing, Dyson described the five major types of media appropriations, all of which were illustrated in Marcel’s case, that manipulate the student’s writing composition. These appropriations go against what is commonly believed about the media being a negative influence on children. Instead these appropriations display the positive influence the media can have on the development of literacy. The first of the five was content in which children utilize things such as the name of teams or even the knowledge of a sport itself in to incorporate in “school- modeled writing practices” (Dyson pg.337), as was the case when Rita (the teacher) gave the class a writing task where children were to make a list. For example: Marcel’s first list was a name of teams followed by a list of states, all of which had affiliations with football teams. Second, children could appropriate communicative forms such as the use of location adjectives before team names, “Dallas Cowboys”, or the use of dramatic action verbs, “The 49ers got whipped on Sunday”. Third was the appropriation of graphic conventions, for example: the use of graphic arrangement of game results. The fourth appropriation was the use of voiced utterances where children are able to recall and use specific lines spoken by characters or in this case athletes or reporters. The last was the appropriated ideologies of gender and power, where children learn gender roles like when Marcel tells Wenona that she can’t play hockey because girls don’t play hockey.
As Dyson explains in this article, media plays a major role in the development of children’s literacy as well as their introduction to society as individuals. Students not only write about mass media, but write through mass media. If we believe that the mass media can have an effect on students as viewers, consumers, and citizens, then we must also realize that the mass popular culture students have so much experience with and can read so well is an important influence on their perceptions and responses to print literacy. In a world where the most dominant and pervasive form of mass popular culture is television it is vital teachers consider the influence of television on students as writers. The media’s influence on the development of children does not necessarily have to be harmful. The media serves as a starting point from which to withdraw information and as a place to gain knowledge.