Document Type

Book Chapter


The scene is a primary school in regional Australia that has a large proportion of students from non-English-speaking backgrounds (NESB). In one of these culturally diverse classrooms, I observed the following exchange at the beginning of a blustery Thursday with the students gathered together on the front mat. The teacher was quizzing her Grade 1 class on the days of the week. She held up flashcards and the children were asked to read the day. When she held up "Thursday," she drew attention to the "ur" sound and asked which other day also included the "ur" sound. After a few incorrect attempts from various class members, the answer of "Saturday" was given. As the teacher resumed "testing" the days of the week, James, a boy from Papua/New Guinea, said, "Turtle has the 'ur' sound, too." The teacher nodded at the child and continued with the days of the week when James again interrupted with, "And dinosaur. That ends with 'ur'," The teacher looked at him and with ill-humor, said, "Yes, but dinosaur doesn't make the 'ur' sound, does it?" before continuing with the the lesson. What interpretations can be made of this exchange? We could assume that this is a teacher who does not welcome interruptions that take the class "off-task" and this is certainly the explanation given after the lesson. In response, I commented to the teacher that James seemed to be a bright boy, to which she replied, 'James is too smart. He gets us off task all the time." However, on a number of other occasions, I observed the teacher capitalizing on those "off-task" teaching moments when another child was responsible for the interruption, particularly when the "culprit" was a white girl.