Dr. Arnetha F. Ball

South Africa Research

Since 1994 I have been conducting research in classrooms and community-based literacy programs in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Natal, and Cape Town, South Africa. In these settings, similarly intense political, social, and educational dilemmas are being faced by individuals who speak non-prestige varieties of English as those being experienced by AAVE speakers across communities here in the United States. A country with eleven official national languages and a place where the cultural and linguistic practices of students play a critical role in their educational experiences, South Africa has been an excellent environment in which to extend my research on the teaching and learning of language and literacies in a variety of formal and informal schools and in community-based organizations designed to serve “at-risk” youth. Within these contexts I have investigated untapped language and literacy resources in dialect speaking and diverse language speaking communities. The ultimate goal of this work is the development of a theory of environments that contribute to successful learning for marginalized, underachieving and disenfranchised students across national boundaries. In addition to conducting research, I have served as an Academic Specialist for the United States Information Services Program (USIS) and co-taught courses on Multiliteracies and English Methodologies in the teacher education program at Johannesburg College of Education and the University of Cape Town. I also consulted with members of the Educational Trust on researching aspects of teacher education and participated in a series of seminars on reforming the teacher education curriculum.

 My U.S. and South African teacher education research has been framed as a theoretical work. It focuses on the development of a framework for considering how teachers—who are preparing to face challenging situations in diverse schools across national boundaries—move beyond the cognitive internalization of theories to action oriented practice. One important similarity in these countries is that, structurally, the United States and South Africa are both seeking ways to more effectively educate large numbers of urban students who are culturally and linguistically different from the “dominant” culture, from their teachers, and from the students for whom the majority of instructional materials and school expectations are generally tailored. Drawing on a rich and varied data base that was collected and analyzed over the last decade, this research has yielded evidence of teachers’ changing perspectives and classroom practices over time. One of the aims of this work is to advance understandings of how Vygotsky’s notion of internalization and Bakhtin’s notions of ideological becoming and heteroglossia come together to provide theoretical support for efficacious teaching that can reform teaching and learning in an often under theorized area, the preparation of teachers to teach diverse students (Ball & Freedman, 2004). This work is important at a time when national and international classroom demographics are changing rapidly. My most recent analysis of data has resulted in the development of a model of generative change, which provides a theoretical and conceptual framework to guide the reform of professional development designed to prepare teachers to teach in culturally and linguistically complex classrooms (Ball, 2009). As a heuristic, the model describes an approach to teaching that supports teachers in the discovery of solutions to the challenges they face in classrooms on a day-to-day basis. Cumulatively, my research on professional development and teacher change contributes a rich conceptual and empirical foundation for future research in the field.

My research interests focus on the preparation of teachers to work with diverse student populations and on the language and literacy practices of culturally and linguistically diverse populations in the United States and South Africa. This work is designed to advance sociocultural theory through studies that integrate sociolinguistic and ethnographic approaches to investigate ways in which semiotic systems (oral and written language in particular) serve as a means for mediating teaching and learning in linguistically complex settings and the processes of teacher change and development. This interdisciplinary program of research takes place in three intersecting contexts: U.S. and South African schools in which predominantly poor students are underachieving; NGOs and community-based organizations that provide alternative routes to educational success; and teacher education programs in the U.S. and South Africa. My investigations draw from sociolinguistics, anthropology, education, and psychological frameworks to inform the design, implementation, and interpretation of data.

This work has significance because it provides researchers and practitioners with a theoretical framework grounded in empirical research that enables the support of teachers’ development in under resourced schools based on a theoretically driven conceptualization of the processes by which teachers develop the reflection, commitment, and generativity needed to transform curriculum and pedagogy to better serve diverse students. It further provides an empirical basis for the reform of teaching and learning practices in urban schools and the structuring of teacher education programs that can serve to accelerate educational parity across racial and social boundaries.

I have also served as an Academic Specialist and Language Arts Specialist for the United States Information Services Program in South Africa, co-taught courses on Multiliteracies and English Methodologies in the teacher education program at Johannesburg College of Education, and taught in the Further Diploma in Education Program at the University of Cape Town. 



Research Interests

Access and Equity

Curriculum and Instruction



Inner-city Youth

International Comparative Education




Literacy and Culture

Multicultural Education

Race, Inequality, and Language in Education (RILE)

Teacher Education and Professional Development

Urban Education

Research on Writing

Transnational Research on Preparing Teachers for Diversity

Changing demographics in large urban areas around the globe pose special challenges to today’s teachers and the teacher education programs that prepare them for the classrooms they will enter. Globalization and the increasing number of students in classrooms worldwide who are from racial, cultural, and linguistic backgrounds that are different from the classroom teachers make new urban forms of education in 21st Century multicultural and multilingual classrooms a critical area of consideration trans nationally.

My most recent program of research expands my prior research foci to include investigations of teacher education programs in the U.S., South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. Building on my Model of Generative Change (2009), I explore new insights for developing the next generation of effective teachers who possess the skills, dispositions and knowledge necessary to teach marginalized and disenfranchised students effectively across national boundaries.

The guiding research question asks: What can we learn about the principles and practices that contribute to the improvement of education for students of color across national boundaries and change persisting patterns of under achievement for disenfranchised students by looking at model teacher education programs that prepare teachers for diversity trans-nationally?





Research Background
Before entering the professorate, Dr. Arnetha Ball was a speech/language pathologist, taught in pre-school, elementary and secondary classrooms for over 25 years, and was the founder and Executive Director of an early education center for students of diverse backgrounds.

Dr. Ball's first strand of research on the oral language and written literacies of AAVE speakers began with an investigation of the organizational patterns in the oral and written expository language of African American adolescents. This research went beyond previous work on language use in the inner city and examined the structures of exposition used by these students in informal and academic settings. It supported the hypothesis that devices young African Americans use in informal exposition constituted an untapped language resource that educators can use in designing language arts curricula. This research had both practical and theoretical implications. From a practical perspective, it demonstrated that African American adolescents have preferred patterns of expository organizations and it conceptualized what those patterns look like for students and teachers. From a theoretical perspective, the research contributed to a socio-cultural theory of language learning and use by identifying specific educationally-relevant cultural patterns and linking that information to theoretical principles that help scholars and teachers gain deeper understandings of how students' social and cultural practices influence their academic learning.

Dr. Ball served as the visiting Sizemore Consulting Professor for Duquesne University from 2009 to 2013 on issues of urban education. She also served as President of the American Educational Research Association from 2011 to 2012. In 2014-2015, Dr. Ball will be a Fellow at the Clayman Institute For Gender Research at Stanford University, a Visiting Fellow in the School of Culture and Professional Learning, Faculty of Education at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia, and a Visiting Scholar at Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi.