Should Dialect Readers Be Used in Schools to Teach AAE-speaking Students to Read?
First of all, you might be wondering, what are dialect readers anyway? Dialect readers are reading materials written in African American English (AAE). The goal of using them is to teach students who speak AAE to read in their own dialect, and then transfer that ability to reading Standard American English (SAE). One program created in 1977 by Simpkins, Holt, and Simpkins, the Bridge program, produced 3 books that had similar stories in both AAE and SAE. The idea was that learning to read in AAE would act as a “bridge” to learning to read SAE.
Linguists such as William Labov and Geneva Smitherman supported the program, believing that it was a good tool for improving the reading skills of AAE-speaking students. In 1981, Simpkins and Simpkins tested effectiveness of the Bridge program on students ranging from the 7th to 12th grade. Students were from all over the U.S., and a total of 540 students were tested over 4 months. Those who participated scored significantly higher on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills in Reading Comprehension than those who were in the control group and did not receive the dialect readers.
Even though students’ scores improved, many parents complained about the dialect readers, and the Bridge program had to be shut down.
According to John and Angela Rickford, in their article “Dialect Readers Revisited,” the issue here was that there was not enough communication between the linguists and teachers implementing the program, and parents. Parents did not fully understand the purpose of the Bridge program, and were of the belief that their children should use only SAE in school. John and Angela Rickford explain that if dialect readers are to be used in the future, parents should receive a better explanation about their purpose. What do you think? Should dialect readers be used in schools to teach AAE-speaking student how to read?