EJ1075Correct

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1 Tanji Reed Marshall This article raises the To Correct or Not Correct: reality of English as a naturally variant and Confronting Decisions fluid language inseparable from culture. The author about African American addresses the tensions teachers face in the Students’ Use of Language classroom when they make decisions about how Varieties in the English African American students should use their language. Classroom now when I think about language in “Well— Teachers’ belief systems about language create the terms of them it’s literally speaking in proper decisions to allow students to move freely between grammar . . .” - language varieties or whether they are forced to ad here to what is believed to be fixed rules for speech “But you know when we’re just chatting I’m and written expression. just like let your freak vibe fly.” These are real words from real teachers spoken English Varieties during interviews from a qualitative study on the - To more fully grasp the intersection between teach influence of language, culture, and power on how ers’ beliefs about English and the decisions they teachers plan instruction for high- achieving Afri - make for students necessitates a brief outline of how can American (HA- A) students. Findings from this American English came to be and dominate the cur - study raise real questions and present implications rent lexical landscape. American English or what is for how teachers think about language and culture often characterized as Standard American English - and use their instructional power to direct and con (SAE) has come to be viewed as the dominant form trol how students use language in the classroom. Jeff of language expected to be spoken at school, most Zwiers and Marie Crawford characterize language as certainly in English classrooms. Elementary- aged a product and a tool (138). Students’ use of language students are taught the rules of speech and written in the classroom is a product demonstrating content expression. When students bring different variet - knowledge and a tool for communication with their ies of English to the classroom, particularly BAE/ - peers and teachers. Those students who use lan AAVE, teachers have a decision to make. Do they guage varieties other than what is known as “correct demonstrate a willingness to understand the con - English” or Standard English often find themselves nections between language, culture, and identity caught in the crosshairs of teachers’ beliefs about lan - allowing students to “let their freak vibe fly”? Do guage and their use of power to control their speech. they demonstrate linguistic “purism” and require This is particularly significant with many African students to speak “proper grammar”? Do they offer American students who use what has become known - students an opportunity to make connections be as Black American English (BAE) or African Ameri - tween the ways BAE and SAE correlate and offer can Vernacular English (AAVE), which has been the students pathways toward deeper understanding subject of much interest, research, and controversy of how these two varieties of English shape their (Smitherman). The racial underpinnings associated understanding of content? The decisions teachers with the use of BAE/AAVE have created a challenge make represent their beliefs, and their use of in - for students and teachers, often revealing hidden - structional power influences how these beliefs di - cultural and racial biases leading students to ques rect students’ behavior. tion their identity and place within the classroom. 51 107.5 (2018): 51–56 English Journal EJ_May_2018_B.indd 51 4/22/18 4:03 PM To Correct or Not Correct

2 To Correct or Not Correct The English language has always varied. A Tale of Two Decisions Unfortunately, teachers often possess little to no Understanding the tensions of English and lan - knowledge about the origins of American English guage in the classroom lies in the framework of the as its own form of a language variety. This lack of history outlined in the previous section. Situating - knowledge has created the false idea that Ameri the complexities of how African American students can English is a pure form of speech and writing. - encounter English in the secondary English class As America became a nation, a varied form of Brit - room intersects the ongoing deficit thinking about ish English was developed and used to establish a African American students as learners and African national identity (Devereaux). Language became an Americans as marginalized citizens in the United - essential tool as America established itself as a na States, which is grounded in the racial dynamics of tion separate from Great Britain. Shirley B. Heath America. Language in the classroom fits within the explained that founder John Adams proposed “the cultural systems and struggles alive in society. Af - - United States consider seriously the social and lin rican American students continue to face teachers’ guistic consequences of spreading English around decisions about the meaning of their use of English. the World” (221). In spreading English around the Here I share a tale of two visions for how teachers’ - world, Adams believed it was necessary to deter beliefs on how students should use language in the mine a model of American English (AE) that would classroom create dilemmas for student identity and establish it as identifiable to America and it should reveal hidden biases associated with a value system be prescribed. Adams further believed American sanctioned brand of and ignorance about the school- English should be prescribed through specific rules American English. The teachers discussed here are of grammar and usage. His model set the stage for White females, teaching in predominantly African what has become Standard American English. By American schools. creating a standard for the rules governing Amer - ican English, Adams pushed forward a framework Correctionist Framework for understanding the American identity. Because teachers tend to lack knowledge about the origins of I interviewed teachers for a study about high- achieving American English, they create hostile environments African American students and teachers’ planning for students whose language varieties do not match around language, culture, and power in the secondary the rules governing Standard American English. English classroom. My study revealed teachers have While Adams created an American identity distinct viewpoints about how their African Amer - through a variation on British English, political achieving students should use language ican high- philosopher Frances Lieber advanced the idea that in the classroom. One teacher, Amy, held firmly to varieties of American English would emerge across the idea students should speak in “proper gram - groups and regions (Heath 225). America became a mar.” By proper she specifically explained, “I don’t nation with a unique brand of English, structured want them, like the ‘we was . . .’ and ‘they was . . .’ around a set of rules while simultaneously including and improper grammar like ‘mines’” (Marshall 105). inbred variations. Although regionality, context, - Furthermore, Amy believed she was fighting a los - and situation governed the communicative interac ing battle in getting her students to “speak correctly” tions, the idea of American English being rule fixed because many of her colleagues spoke “incorrectly” - overshadowed the concept of the naturally occur just like her students. In believing there was a defin - ring variances. The fixed structures in AE governed itive right and wrong way to speak, Amy adopted a grammar with specific rules controlling written “correctionist model” (Devereaux 2) and required her and spoken expression. As AE spread throughout students to rephrase their speech every time she heard the world, its grammar and structures formed the - “improper” English. There was no room for a varia language of power, which signified group member - tion on the Standard American English theme, which ship and excluded those who did not adhere to its she wholeheartedly believed and trusted to be true. forms. America’s language of power is the system Students were held to the principles of English many within which many students, especially African subjects and verbs agree and “mine” learn in school— American students, are schooled. is already possessive; therefore, adding the “s” at the May 2018 52 EJ_May_2018_B.indd 52 4/22/18 4:03 PM

3 Tanji Reed Marshall Marie believed when students were interacting end is incorrect and must be corrected. The decision with her and their peers informally, they should Correct! With to correct or not correct was clear— be free to “let their freak vibe fly” (Marshall 102) Amy, students’ home language was not welcomed in and use the form of English with which they felt - the lexical environment of the classroom. Addition with no profanity. When stu ally, the way adolescents experiment with language most comfortable— - dents were engaged in content- based discussions to try on identities was seemingly misunderstood and and working on in- class writing assignments, the devalued for personal expression. She, as do many specific expectation was for them to use discipline- English/language arts teachers, held to a fixed way of thinking about English. - vocabulary and formal structures of English. Stu dents had to choose English variations and allow sit The proper English belief system required stu - - dents to make decisions of their own. Do they comply uation, purpose, and audience to dictate the form of “best fit” (Devereaux 109). Students’ speech was not with the “proper English” demands, which would result in race- so corrected and they did not have to choose sides— and identity- shelving (Marshall 205)? about how best to express themselves or to speak— Do they challenge the system and use their varieties - as the recognition of their content knowledge. The environment was in race- shelving of English? I define fused with a mixture of English representative of the race and the use of power to mitigate its presence by cultural dynamism of her students and their culture. requiring the temporary putting aside of behaviors This ability to allow students linguistic free - most associated with a particular race, in this case dom spoke to a different set of beliefs than Amy. how language is used in speech and/or writing, and While Marie learned about English as many of us - an adoption of behaviors associated with the dom shelving, there is a right and wrong way to speak and do— inant culture. Like race- identity- shelving write— involves the recognition that individual identity is she understood her students naturally used shaped by factors such as race and the use of power to English variations. Marie did not equate her stu - require a temporary putting aside of racially ascribed - dents’ use of language variations with their intelli gence or right to be in an advanced English course. elements of an identity believed to be objectionable By giving her students room to be their linguisti - or personally offensive. Herein lies a critical dilemma cally cultural selves, Marie affirmed her students’ between teachers’ beliefs about how students should - culture, which created a culturally affirming en - speak and what it means when students do not con vironment that sustained culture and presented form to the ideas in their heads. Amy’s quest to ensure students sounded ed opportunities for cultural relevancy. Language is - ucated because they were in school and in an ad a part of a cultural system and varies naturally ac - - cording to situations and purposes (Gee). Marie’s vanced language arts classroom did more than teach understanding of this principle was as significant the structures of Standard English. She engaged in as Amy’s seeming lack of understanding as they cultural warfare, which stripped her students’ abil - both represented a current dilemma in how English ity to learn about English in relation to how they understood and used English. Her ideals about the teachers should and can approach students’ lan - way students should speak depicted a “linguistic guage use in the classroom. Estes inferiority principle” (Wolfram and Schilling- 6) revealing a hidden bias against the use and value Language, Culture, and Power of AAVE. By employing a correctionist model in present in every Power is fixed, yet fluid, and ever- her classroom, Amy demonstrated a lack of cultural - understanding, which translated into a linguisti relationship. The intersection of language, culture, and the dynamic of power manifests the moment cally and culturally hostile environment. students and teachers arrive at school. By design, Language Fluidity teachers and students have different levels of power. - Marie, another interviewee, had a completely differ Therefore, how teachers use their power to di - rect students’ use of language signals their beliefs ent idea about how students should use language in and hidden biases about their students’ cultures the classroom. She demonstrated an understanding and language. When teachers harbor inferiority of the natural variations in the English language. 53 English Journal EJ_May_2018_B.indd 53 4/22/18 4:03 PM

4 To Correct or Not Correct students while expecting and demanding they do principles about students’ language coupled with the same for her. a fixed notion of how English operates, their use of power can constrain and be an oppressive force within the classroom. Such was the case with Amy. To Correct or Not Although she would not name her actions as op - Is there such a thing as correct English and should pressive or shrouded with racially and culturally students learn it? Research on linguistics has ascribed deficit thinking, her actions spoke loudly proven there is no such thing as “correct” English. - enough. Speaking specifically about the type of lan Research has further proven English is regionally guage her students were not allowed to use signaled situated and culturally and socially variant. Lisa - Amy’s area of focus. Although Amy’s stated inten Delpit, Michelle Devereaux, Mary Ehrenworth, tions were to prepare her students for the next level Sonja Nieto, and others have championed the need of their schooling, her actions sent two messages. for linguistically and culturally marginalized stu - First, her students erroneously learned English is dents to learn Standard English— the language of fixed with a singular form of expression. Second and power. In discussions with my interviewees, it was most important, her students learned their form of clear teachers made instructional choices based on English was wrong and needed to be fixed. - their beliefs and knowledge, which influenced re Contrast Marie’s language perspectives with sponses to the language their students brought to Amy’s, and a picture of possibilities emerges. Marie school. Amy believed that since students were in recognized she and her students spoke formal and school, they should sound intelligent and profes - informal English varieties. She offered her students sional. She went as far as to say she challenged her a way to learn content and acquire skills using both students by asking them, “are you gonna say that in sanctioned English and their unique varia - school- an interview, like how unprofessional do you look” tions of English; there was nothing to correct. Even (Marshall 105). Unknown to Amy was her own use when challenged by her students to adopt their of an English variation. In questioning how her forms of speech, Marie pushed back defending her students would speak, she seemed not to recognize own uses of English sharing: that “gonna” is its own English variation of “go.” Just like I’m like so . . . That’s good for you. Jus— Her own use of casual English went unheard while it’s good for me to hear . . . you speak and . . . how she forced a strict use of formal English forms onto I’m learning different you speak, I’m learning— her students. In saying this statement to her stu - things about the culture just by listening to you dents, Amy echoed Michael Stubbs’s observation guys speak . . . about how you guys speak and how you’ve learned to use language. And that’s how that “we hear language through a powerful filter I learned to use language. And I’m not going to of social values and stereotypes” (66). There was a change the way I speak for you because this is part clear filter applied to Amy’s understanding about me. And that’s part of what of what makes me— the way her students spoke relative to how she makes you— you. (Marshall 104) spoke. She and her students used varying forms of American English; however, hers was valued above Marie’s use of more formal structures of English was theirs and she made it known. In so doing, Amy not thrust upon her students. She used her students’ required her students to conform to her standards - form of English as a tool for learning, not for cor of speech based on the values and stereotypes she recting or erasing. Recognizing the relationship be - tween language and culture served as a mechanism harbored. for mutuality instead of domination. Allowing her As a White teacher of majority Black students, the tensions are obvious. The stereotypes and values students to bring their racially cultured selves to were clear. Students’ language was viewed through class while she brought her racially cultured self a prism of race and power, in the form of constant - to the class created a respectful and understand correction, and was used to ensure socially accept - ing classroom. Instead of using her instructional power as a weapon to advance an erroneous domi - able forms of English were spoken. The teaching - nant culture understanding about the English lan population remains predominately White and fe - guage, Marie affirmed the linguistic culture of her male while the percentages of students of color are May 2018 54 EJ_May_2018_B.indd 54 4/22/18 4:03 PM

5 Tanji Reed Marshall audience, and purpose (Devereaux; Gee). Addi - increasing; therefore, the lens White teachers bring - tionally, having the opportunity to analyze English to the classroom regarding the English dialects stu through the lens of natural variance fosters an ap dents use is more important than ever. Standard - English is unquestionably the language of power preciation for instead of adopting a devaluing of the and students should be conversant and proficient in ways in which different groups bridge culture and it. The question becomes, How do teachers address speech. This bridging applies to written expression the very real need for students to learn SAE while as well. The authors that teachers choose to expose their students to use language strategically, and affirming the language variations their students students need to develop the capacity to see the En - bring to and use outside of school? How do En - glish language in all its variant splendor. glish teachers deal with the tensions they may have The opportunity to learn and (re)vision En with hearing American English in a more expansive - - light when everything they’ve learned says Ameri glish in the classroom lies within the texts we hold can English is the standard- bearer of what it means dear. While Shakespeare, Hurston, Lee, and Hughes to speak correctly, anchor an American identity, and grace the desks of many advanced secondary stu - be valued in society? Correction is necessary, how - - dents, the teaching remains focused on themes, lit erary devices, and other traditional ways of teaching ever, only as it advances learning, not as a means novels. Fostering a deeper understanding about En - for social and cultural domination. The differences between Amy’s and Marie’s responses to students’ glish can be forged through the use of these texts as - windows into language as cultural identifiers. Con language varieties in the classroom represent the Their Eyes Were Watching sider Zora Neale Hurston’s influence of teachers’ beliefs about language on . While this is a tale of a woman actualizing their instructional decisions. God and challenging the status quo about womanhood, - it is also a study in how language shaped a cul English Variations as Learning Tools - ture and identified a people. While students grap ple with understanding Janie’s character amid the “These kids can’t write.” “These kids can’t speak.” struggle of becoming a woman on her own terms, I’ve heard these statements and others like they must also be challenged to see her language them from teachers across the country. Devereaux as an essential part of her cultural make- up, not a - Teach offers a way of fostering language learning in broken form of English— ing about Dialect Variation and Language in Secondary something to be made . In - fun of or skipped over because students cannot pro English Classrooms: Power, Prestige, and Prejudice it, she advances the idea that students should be - nounce the words. Not only do the words them engaged in linguistic analyses of Standard English selves have significance, the structure and rules of and other English variations such as AAVE. Stu - Janie’s language are part of the character interac - by- dent should see both forms side- side to conduct tions throughout the book. structural analysis to determine the governing rules As Hurston moves between narration and of each form. Doing so provides students with the character speech, students glimpse the differences opportunity to see English as a naturally varying between Janie’s dialect and the SAE used to fill the story (see Figure 1). Hurston’s use of dialect offers form of communicating governed by situation, Janie’s Speech and Hurston’s Narration FIGURE 1. Hurston’s Narration Questions for Analysis Janie’s Speech 1. What do you notice about Janie’s Janie turned from the door without “You ain’t done me no favor in answering and stood in the middle marryin’ me. And if that’s what you and Hurston’s words? call yo’self doin’, I don’t thank yuh of the floor without knowing it. 2. What is significant about the for it.” structure of Janie’s words? 3. Based on the structure of Janie’s words, describe the rules governing her speech. 55 English Journal EJ_May_2018_B.indd 55 4/22/18 4:03 PM

6 To Correct or Not Correct Works Cited students a chance to see the relationships between Delpit, Lisa, and Joan Kilgour Dowdy. The Skin That We - language and culture while at the same time recog Speak: Thoughts on Language in the Classroom . New nizing the purposeful use of SAE. Studying English Press, 2002. in this way gives students an opportunity to vision Teaching about Dialect Variations and Devereaux, Michelle. - English as part of a system of interaction, “insepa Language in Secondary English Classrooms: Power, Pres - tige, and Prejudice . Routledge, 2016. rable from an attention to the transactions between The Power of Gram - Ehrenworth, Mary, and Vicki Vinton. individuals and cultures” (Stewart 284). Such an mar: Unconventional Approaches to the Conventions of analysis moves students from considering English . Heinemann, 2005. Language Gee, James Paul. Discourse Analysis: An Introduction to Theory as a standard and nonstandard binary toward En - . Routledge, 2005. and Method glish as “existing on a continuum” (Devereaux Heath, Shirley B. “American English: Quest for a Model.” 106) shaped by such factors as situation, purpose, , edited by The Other Tongue: English across Cultures 32. Braj B. Kachru, U of Illinois P, 1992, pp. 220– and audience. When students have opportunities Influences of Language, Culture, and Marshall, Tanji P. Reed. to see the English language as naturally fluid, they Power on Instructional Decision Making with High- can recognize their own use of grammar, syntax, Achieving African Students in Advanced Secondary English and accent as valuable tools for written and spoken Classrooms . Unpublished Dissertation, Virginia Poly - technic Institute and State University, 2017. expression. - Nieto, Sonja. Language, Culture, and Teaching: Critical Per spectives . Routledge, 2010. Talkin’ and Testifyin’: The Language of Smitherman, Geneva. Conclusion Black America . Wayne State UP, 1977. Culture and language are inseparable markers of Stewart, Trevor T. “Transactional Analysis: Conceptualizing A Framework for Illuminating Human Experience.” students’ identities. The practices teachers use to , 2011, International Journal of Qualitative Methods bring the variations of English into the classroom 282– 95. pp. - reveal a great deal about their knowledge, under Stubbs, Michael. “Some Basic Sociolinguistics Concepts.” The Skin That We Speak: Thoughts on Language in the standing, and more importantly their beliefs about Classroom , edited by Lisa Delpit and Joan Kilgour the English language. It is imperative teachers 86. Dowdy, New Press, 2002, pp. 63– develop skills necessary to embrace the naturally Estes. Wolfram, Walt, and Natalie Schilling- American English: Dialect and Variation . Blackwell Publishing, fluid forms of English while equipping students 2006. with the skills to recognize and employ the best Zwiers, Jeff, and Marie Crawford. Academic Conversations: form of English when needed, which creates only Classroom Talk That Fosters Critical Thinking and Con - opportunities. tent Understandings . Stenhouse Publishers, 2011. Tanji Reed Marshall ([email protected]) is currently working as a senior practice associate for the Education Trust. Her research interests focus on high- achieving African American students, teacher practices, and issues related to lan - guage, culture, and power in the classroom. A member of NCTE since 2008, she has worked as a classroom teacher, Title I literacy coach, literacy specialist, and has worked as an educational consultant across the country. READWRITETHINK CONNECTION Lisa Storm Fink, RWT Writers often use dialects to paint an authentic portrait of the location or time period about which they are writing. The Color Purple by Alice Walker is an excellent example of a text that is successfully and eloquently written in dialect. Unfortunately, many students find it inaccessible because they are unfamiliar with the concept of dialects - and do not know how to read a book that is written in this way. Students begin this lesson by listening to exam ples of several dialects and discuss what they learn about each speaker from the recordings. As a class, students come up with a definition of the word dialect and continue to examine its use in Walker’s novel. The lesson fosters further interaction with the text using written reflections in double- entry journals and peer- to- peer discussions in literature circles. http://bit.ly/2CxPRTI May 2018 56 EJ_May_2018_B.indd 56 4/22/18 4:03 PM

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