Code-switching, code-meshing, and linguistic bias in the classroom

Catherine Savini has an interesting piece in a recent issue of Inside Higher Ed. Although it’s aimed at college professors, it applies equally well to secondary educators.

The issue is a familiar one: how to respond to students who don’t speak or write “standard” English. Of course there are several sub-populations in this group:

  • students who speak a different language because they grew up in another country
  • students who speak a non-prestige dialect of English because they grew up in a particular neighborhood or social environment
  • students who have a variety of learning disabilities that affect their speech or writing

And I’m sure there are others. In any case, different responses are called for. Savini writes about both of the first two sub-populations. She doesn’t actually use the phrase “deficit model,” but her major argument consists of ways to avoid such a model. You may or may not like her ten solutions for what a non-ELL teacher should do in coping with students who have trouble with standard academic English—I could either agree or disagree with any one of them—but they are all worth thinking about. Here’s a summary of the ten, all in Savini’s actual words, but you really should read the entire article:

  1. Ask all students about their language backgrounds.
  2. Assess students on what you are actually teaching them.
  3. Provide students opportunities to write in their own voice.
  4. Don’t view students who are learning English or who speak/write in Black vernacular English as a problem that needs fixing.
  5. Work harder to understand students who are multilingual/multidialectal both in writing and orally.
  6. Ask yourself what is making the writing unclear to you.
  7. Add a syllabus statement that values linguistic diversity.
  8. Design discipline-appropriate approaches to combating linguistic prejudice.
  9. Learn about linguistic bias and its impact.
  10. Raise awareness about linguistic prejudice on your campus.

Oh, and if you don’t know what code-switching is (you probably do) and what code-meshing is (you probably don’t), you should definitely read the article!

Categories: Linguistics, Teaching & Learning