Teaching Standard English To Speakers Of Nonstandard English Dialects
There is little disagreement that educational success and expanded social and career options are linked to competence in standard English. An alarming percentage of students who speak nonstandard English are failing to acquire standard English, the language of education. Moreover, many students who do acquire standard English do so while being taught to reject the language of their home, community and peers. In the process, they are denied an effective element of social solidarity, which is an important element of cultural heritage.
- Why Do Nonstandard English-Speaking Children Fail to Acquire Standard English?
- Toward More Effective Teaching of Standard English
- Teaching Standard English from a Cultural Perspective
- What Is a Godd Approach to Implementing Standard English as a Second Dialect (SESD) Programs?
- How Can Aides and Parents Help?
Why Do Nonstandard English Speaking Children Fail to Acquire Standard English?
Many arguments have been advanced to explain the low achievement levels of nonstandard English speaking children, particularly African American children, in acquiring oral competence in standard English. The most tenable argument suggests that the philosophy, assumptions and traditional classroom methodologies employed in language arts education have failed because they have been prescriptive and corrective and have focused too much on language structure rather than on communicative competence (Taylor, 1985). Moreover, traditional teaching methodologies have not typically been culturally sensitive, nor have they made use of indigenous, nonstandard dialects. These significant deficiencies are probably due to naivete, or to negative attitudes toward language variations by language arts teachers.
Toward More Effective Teaching of Standard English
In recent years, a number of educators have begun to devise and implement instructional strategies which take into account the various language systems that students bring into the classroom. In general, these strategies are based on modern sociolinguistic learning theory and on established principles of second language teaching.
In 1981, California became the first state to recognize the importance of indigenous dialects in teaching standard English. Focusing primarily on the language of African American nonstandard English speaking children, California's State Board of Public Instruction stated in part:Many Black learners come to the school setting speaking a language that is linguistically different from standard English. The language they speak is an integral part of the Afro-American culture . . . It is a unique language which serves a uniquely rich culture. However, the school setting and that of the larger American society, including the economic and commercial communities, represent another linguistic sphere in which the student must learn to move and speak successfully. To the extent that the young student fluently communicates in either language, he increases his opportunities in both realms ....
Therefore, to provide proficiency in English to California students who are speakers of Black Language and to provide equal educational opportunities for these students, it is recommended that the State Board of Education and the State Department of Education hereby recognize:
That structured oral language practice in standard English should be provided on an ongoing basis.
That special program strategies are required to address the needs of speakers of Black language.
That parents and the general public should be informed of implications of educational strategies to address the linguistic needs of Black students.
Teaching Standard English from a Cultural Perspective
Teaching the standard language from a cultural perspective differs from the traditional language education approach in that it does not blame the victim. Standard English instruction from a cultural perspective does not presuppose the devaluation or elimination of a learner's indigenous language as a pre-requisite for learning. It recognizes that students need to retain their home dialect where its use is appropriate.
Several major requirements for teaching standard English from a cultural perspective follow. Instruction should:
- Focus on both the structure of language, and on how to communicate;
- Maintain an oral basis;
- Concentrate on the structure of language, situational language requirements and language as a vehicle for thinking;
- Be linked to clearly defined long term goals; and
- Be integrated across the curriculum.
A successful culturally based standard English program recognizes that learning proceeds in an orderly way from the introduction of a particular aspect of language through its mastery. The model which has enjoyed the widest use and greatest success was designed in the late 1970s by the San Diego Oral Language Program. It has been used with modifications in Standard English as a Second Dialect (SESD) programs in Dallas, Texas, and in Richmond and Oakland in California. The model lists several necessary steps for learning a new linguistic system while preserving the student's indigenous system. The model includes the following eight steps:
- Developing positive attitudes toward one's own language. The first and continuing job of the teacher is to counteract negative evaluations of the students' indigenous language. Lessons on the historical development of various dialects and on language diversity are useful in accomplishing this goal.
- Developing awareness of language varieties. Students develop a sensitivity to the various forms of a given language via stories in standard English, poems in different dialects, and records, tapes or video recordings of various speakers. At this stage, specific likenesses and differences are emphasized.
- Recognizing, labeling and contrasting dialects. Students learn to recognize differences in various languages and dialects and to associate specific features with each linguistic system.
- Comprehending meanings. Students learn to recognize differences in meanings and intentions when an idea is translated from one language or dialect to another.
- Recognizing situational communication requirements. Students determine the types of speech appropriate to various situations.
- Producing in structured situations. Students practice producing successive approximations of standard English. Initially, students follow a model at this stage, e.g., a script, choral reading or poem.
- Producing in controlled situations. Students receive instruction and practice in producing standard English without a model, e.g., role playing or retelling a story.
- Matching the language to the situation. Students practice speaking appropriately in real life, spontaneous situations leading to communicative competence.
Before beginning to teach standard English from a cultural perspective, the teacher and school need a clear language arts philosophy which embraces modern principles of ethnology, sociolinguistics and second language instruction The philosophy and assumptions statement developed by the Richmond Unified School District in California is a good example of what schools and teachers may usefully adopt. (See Appendix I.)
Finally, before beginning program implementation, the teacher and school community must become thoroughly familiar with the following general principles of second dialect instruction:
- Instruction should be preceded by a non biased assessment of each learner's knowledge of his or her first dialect and of the second dialect.
- Students must feel positive toward their own dialects.
- Students must want to learn another dialect. If motivation is not present, the teacher must help students discover the advantages of acquiring the second dialect.
- Instruction must consider the language goals of students, their families and their communities.
- Instruction must take into account cultural values associated with learning and teaching.
- Instruction must accommodate the preferred cognitive learning styles of the students. Some children prefer a field independent (object oriented) cognitive style. Others prefer a field dependent (social oriented) cognitive style. Both are valid, however, schools tend to be more oriented toward the field independent style. See Appendix II for a summary of these two preferred cognitive styles.
- Both the teacher and students must be able to contrast the linguistic and communicative rules of the existing and targeted dialects.
- Linguistic and communicative features of the existing dialect should be compared with those of the targeted dialect.
- Instruction should be integrated with students' experiences.
- Both the teacher and students must believe that it is possible to acquire a second dialect.
What Is a Good Approach to Implementing Standard
English as a Second Dialect (SESD) Programs?
Minimum standards must be established for evaluating the validity of culturally based SESD curricula and teaching/learning strategies. An SESD program should:
- Permit students to demonstrate their listening skills by summarizing, responding, paraphrasing or following directions.
- Allow varied and frequent opportunities for students to communicate with each other.
- Provide students opportunities to summarize, analyze or evaluate oral or written communication completed by themselves, their peers or the teacher.
- Provide students opportunities to listen and respond appropriately to the teacher, their classmates or audio visual materials.
- Allow students to use speech for different purposes in a variety of situations, e.g., persuading, informing, imagining, questioning or asserting.
- Teach students how to evaluate the effectiveness of their own communication.
- Stress that learning new speech patterns is linked to short term and long term goals.
- Underscore the importance of situation, audience or topic during communication.
- Indicate that oral communication activities will be included throughout the total curriculum.
- Have a clear language and communication focus.
The Richmond and Los Angeles school districts in California and Dade County Public Schools in Miami, Florida, have developed lessons and support materials for implementing SESD programs. Names and addresses of information sources on SESD programs are presented in Appendix III.
How Can Aides and Parents Help?
The teaching of a second dialect cannot be solely the responsibility of the classroom teacher, no more than it can be limited to the language arts classroom. Teacher aides and parents can support the instructional process and assist children's language development in general and SESD instruction in particular by:
- Encouraging children to speak in a variety of situations and before many audiences;
- Establishing talking as a frequent, enjoyable and secure activity;
- Modeling and expanding students' speech into language appropriate for the topic, situation and audience;
- Pointing out what language and communicative behaviors are appropriate as situations occur;
- Discouraging teasing about speech;
- Not over-correcting students' speech;
- Linking corrections of speech to the situation;
- Providing the school and teachers with examples of speech used in the home and community to incorporate in instruction, assessment and teacher training;
- Reinforcing writing or reading activities with activities that include talking;
- Providing an abundance of verbal stimuli for students irrespective of language or communication competencies;
- Encouraging students to engage in conversations with a variety of people and on a variety of subjects; and
- Encouraging students to recount their experiences in narrative form as often as possible and before a variety of audiences.
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