We Can’t Teach What We Don’t Know
In their recently published book, Understanding English Language Variation in U.S. Schools, Anne Charity Hudley and Christine Mallinson add to what we know. This book is for educators, scholars and individuals concerned with the success of all children.
Charity Hudley and Mallinson help us to better understand the range of dialects (or varieties of English) that students bring to the classroom and how to embrace and manage these differences.
This is a book for anyone who has ever worked with or interacted with school children and has recognized a mismatch between how some children actually speak and how they are “supposed to speak” in school.
The authors devote an entire chapter to discussion of ‘Standard English.’ They explain what language standards are, where the notion of a language standard comes from, and and why it is necessary to teach our children ‘School English’ in order to contribute to their success in their academic work, and later on, in their careers. They explain that for our educators to be successful in educating our children, they should know and understand more about the home dialects that children bring with them to school.
Charity Hudley and Mallinson give us an overview of two varieties of English– Southern English and African American English– which are often times stigmatized in the educational system. The reader is given an overview of the features found in these dialects, in terms of sound, grammar, pitch, intonation and vocabulary, for example. The descriptions of these features are written in a way that is accessible to everyone, eschewing phonetic symbols in favor of more well-known English spelling. After sensitizing the public to language variation within American English, the authors discuss ways in which educators can modify their teaching practices to best serve students from diverse linguistic backgrounds.
For a book that combines decades of research on linguistics and education, it’s refreshingly slim and easy-to-read. Throughout the book, the authors offer the reader, especially educational practioners, strategies for managing language diversity in the classroom. Additionally, there is a take-home message at the end of each chapter to summarize the most important points.
This book not only provides the reader with a better understanding of linguistic diversity in the classroom, but also attempts to provide tools that can be used to help young students succeed without their home language being devalued.
To learn more about the work of Anne Charity Hudley and Christine Mallinson check out our previous post highlighting these committed scholars.