In English 812 this week, we created timelines of the major events and concepts in writing and English pedagogy that we’ve read about and discussed over the last few weeks. Interestingly, some of us brought larger social movements into our timelines, illustrating the effects of cultural context on pedagogical trends. These timelines helped us to track the ways in which the approaches to teaching English have evolved and fluctuated in tandem with these larger social movements.
We then shifted our focus to the book Language Diversity in the Classroom (2003), which was written in part as a response to surveys conducted by the CCCC and NCTE. These surveys revealed a disconcerting lack of teacher knowledge about language diversity. This book sought to fill in some of those gaps and provide a platform for discussion among scholars in the field.
On Erasure and Forgetting
Some of us raised the specific issue of teaching in the field of English as a Second Language (ESL) and questioned if the field has or has not changed in terms of approaching English as a “global language.” In Language Diversity in the Classroom, Victoria Cliett explains that English teachers should not focus on “a solely domestic concept of ‘standard English’” as to do so would put the field at a disadvantage in the global community (67). Cliett goes on to discuss the Honolulu conference which, in 1978, “produced a formal statement…that affirmed the need to continue inquiry into the development of English as an international language,” essentially calling into question the primacy of Standard American English (68).
To this end, a group of student teachers were studied to determine what effect knowledge of World Englishes would have on their attitudes and pedagogies. These TESOL masters students were provided varying levels of instruction on World Englishes and language diversity; the results, not surprisingly, demonstrated that teachers who had exposure to more, and more complex, instruction on language diversity had indeed developed more nuanced perceptions of students and their varying languages.
All of this 1970’s studying of and pushing for an increase in language diversity training for student teachers raised the question of why this largely doesn’t seem to be happening even now in 2018. It is concerning that so much work and thought has been put in on this subject, yet the average English educator in America may still not be receiving training on language diversity. The work of decades passed seems to go largely unrecognized, and sometimes erased, in the larger field.
That said, more small change may be occurring than we realize. For example, there is at least one course – titled Language Acquisition for Children of Diverse Backgrounds – that is focused on linguistic diversity as part of UWM’s teacher training program.
The concept of work erasure was once again raised with the discussion of the CCCC committee’s compiled materials for teachers, a project the team worked on for four years in the 1980s, but then decided not to publish. The ultimate choice not to go forward with the work was in response to the diminishing conversation about language diversity in the classroom at the time.
Another 1980s event that is discussed in Language Diversity in the Classroom is California’s passing of the English Only law. California was the first state in the nation to pass such a law in modern times and it is explained that the state was targeted for this action as a result of its very diversity. We discussed the ways in which this targeting can be read as a form of racism and an attempt to silence home and family languages and diminish cultures.
Thinking in New Ways: Think Tank session
To delve into the subject of tangible classroom changes, we held our own think tank session to begin breaking open our own perceptions of teaching and learning. To do this, we thought about classroom spaces, where learning occurs, activities for learning, assignments, means of giving feedback, and what we perceive as positives experiences of language and culture. We placed these concepts alongside the goals of dialect equality, awareness of language diversity, contextually-responsive pedagogies, and rhetorical effectiveness.
Some of the key points from our think tank included:
There are many additional books on the value and intentional use of varied dialects. Code Switching: Teaching Standard English in Urban Classrooms by Rebecca S. Wheeler & Rachel Swords and Code-Meshing as World English (Vershawn Ashanti Young & Aja Y. Martinez) are two such works for further reading.