Talking the walk: Children reading urban environmental print
Marjorie Faulstich Orellana and Arcelia Hernandez
This research project is very different from the norm. Instead of studying suburban children from a typical White, middle-class community, a group of literacy researchers chooses to study urban children in their central Los Angeles community. These children and/or their parents are immigrants from Central America, Mexico and to lesser extent, Korea.
The researchers and the children went on two community “literacy walks” through their Los Angeles neighborhood. These neighborhoods provide a plethora of resources that can aid teachers who teach in similar urban schools. “Urban environments overflow with print in multiple languages and in many different forms, rich with historical, cultural, and contextual meanings that can be plumbed as literacy lessons for children.”
I think the researchers were being extremely careful. They desperately wanted to see how the children understood their community through words in print. However, the types of who, why and what questions that they asked the children, were not producing a fluid flow of information, rather they just got several “I don’t know” responses to their questions. These children are smart and they have their own thoughts and ideas about their neighborhood and what is important for them.
Just when the researchers thought that they failed, a shift occurred, as they came to a street that three of students lived on. They were excited about reading their street name, a family members work place, the local video store, and movie posters. In fact, they got so excited about the movies they had seen that the researchers had to “insist” that they keep walking. Another point of connection for the children in particular was the understanding of graffiti. Most adults dismiss graffiti as ugly useless vandalism. However, the children know that gangs tag their territory, with signs, symbols, and colors. They must be careful in specific areas; it could mean life or death.
In the end, I believe that reciprocal learning took place between the children and the researchers. Those children focused on the signs, graffiti, cement and chalk writings that meant something to them. “The children’s excitement at encountering these signs renewed our faith in using the urban environment for literacy lessons, but it showed us that we could not do this in a “one sign works for all” manner.”