Sociocultural Differences in Children’s Genre Knowledge
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Texts are an integral part of people’s everyday lives in current literate societies. People deal with texts in a variety of social settings: at home, at work, at school and on the streets. Indeed, children may learn a lot about texts by observing adults using them, by looking at print materials, by being read to or by reading books, newspapers, letters and so on themselves. But are these textual experiences the same for all children? How do different social contexts shape children’s experiences with texts and written language in general? This chapter addresses these questions and provides answers on the basis of data drawn from a specific cultural context, the Brazilian context. It is expected that some groups of Brazilian children (such as middle-class children) would have frequent encounters with a broad range of text genres and, as a result, their generic textual knowledge would be quite rich. In Brazil, however, we find a special group of children — the street children — who do not live with their families, and do not attend school. What do street children know about texts? Where does their knowledge come from? To explore these issues, we devised a study in which Brazilian middle-class and street children were asked to produce and identify different text genres: a story, a letter and a newspaper article. We also talked informally with the children about their exposure to these genres in contexts created at home, at school and on the streets. The results show that streets can be regarded as an important literacy environment to street children just as home and school is to middle-class children, and that children’s generic knowledge is mediated by the social practices around certain types of texts children from different social backgrounds engage with.
Keywordstext genres stories newspaper articles letters textual knowledge meta-textual awareness home literacy school literacy street literacy
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