SIP 1.11: English and Englishes

8243005428_905689f25a_cThirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

As professors, most of us are familiar with the concept of students who are learning English as a second language, and we understand the challenges that students in a language acquisition phase may face in our classrooms. However, we may be less certain about native English-speaking students who are learning to navigate the world of academic language while at the same time developing a linguistic (and personal) identity. What can we do to support students as they learn and to help them reach the high linguistic bar that we set?

Take a SIP of this: English and Englishes

Understanding language as part of a personal and academic identity is fundamental. Culture and values are tied up in language, which is why the home language or language level needs to be respected and not seen as deficient or nonstandard. Creating a culturally inclusive classroom means respecting language differences and moving away from a deficit model that sees some dialects of English as being “nonstandard” or “incorrect.”

Keep these ideas in mind:

  • English Language Learners will learn slowly over time, so improvement in language skills may not be seen in one semester. That doesn’t mean the student isn’t trying. Students and faculty need to have realistic expectations.
  • The Writing Center ( ) can help with writing skills and the Immigrant Services Program ( ) can help with language skills.
  • Remember that academic discourse is a type of language that needs to be learned by all students—no one speaks academic discourse as their first language. Remember too that academic discourse itself isn’t a stable concept and varies from discipline to discipline.
  • Scaffolding needs to be provided for challenging reading—this will help everyone, not just the language learners.
  • Consider language as a four-dimensional construct consisting of reading, writing, listening and speaking. Students may have varied levels of control in different areas—for example, a student may be a strong reader of English, but his or her spoken language skills may appear to be deficient. Don’t be too quick to judge a student’s language abilities until you are familiar with their control of all four areas—and provide support throughout the semester in order to equalize skills and language production in all linguistic aspects.

Want an example of how this might work? In her book Power and Pedagogy (1988), Lisa Delpit suggests that teachers permit students to produce work (say a theory application paper) in both their “native language” (she uses Ebonics as example) and in conventional “academic discourse.” She then has the students compare the two papers. Of course, you would not necessarily do this with all assignments, but maybe one—or just give students the option to do this. (As an aside, this type of assignment fits well with the “multiple modes of expression” that are foundational to Universal Design for Learning.)

Still thirsty? Take another SIP of English and Englishes

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