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Archived Content from Conference Held in May 1999 

Building on our Strengths:
Second International Conference on Language Teacher Education


Sociocultural Perspectives of Language and Literacy

Kris Gutierrez, University of California, Los Angeles

All classroom practices are informed by theory, whether teachers are conscious of it or not. The everyday theories teachers employ maybe formal or informal theories. Some of our theories come from formal study; others come from our everyday experiences as we participate in the practices of our various communities. Everything we do in our classrooms has a particular theory (or theories) and sets of assumptions that underlie our practices. Thus, the teaching and learning of language and literacy are not neutral and benign activities. Our teaching practices, particularly in urban schools, have both cognitive and social consequences. One step in improving language and literacy instruction is to examine the theories and assumptions that inform our classroom practices.

A growing number of educators and researchers propose a sociocultural view of language as a particularly productive framework for working with diverse student populations and communities. One of the strengths of sociocultural theory is that it recognizes this relationship between language, culture, and human development or learning. This relationship is particularly important in that teacher education programs most often focus on Teaching language rather than the learning of language, and tend to omit the study of language and literacy as sociocultural practices. In this way, there is little opportunity to understand notions of language socialization, i.e., that people are both socialized to use language and through language. From a sociocultural perspective, then, language development must be understood in relation to its context of development. The way we organize learning in our classrooms influences what is learned and who gets to learn and shapes our identities as language learners. Moreover, this view helps us understand that language and literacy are not simply targets of instruction, but also are powerful tools for learning. Thus, the linguistic repertoire that students bring to schooling environments can serve as a resource for learning. Teachers need to be mindful of the ways that language is a tool that helps make sense of our experiences and indexes our identities and memberships in groups. Teacher education programs that utilize a sociocultural perspective of language learning can assist teachers in developing more dynamic notions of culture and learning. This is critical as our student populations become more diverse and language policies emerging across this country attempt to eliminate diversity.


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