During this semester of graduate school, we have been working with ISTE Coaching Standard 3. One of the indicators in this standard has to do with making digital learning more culturally relevant. In my readings for the week, one article in particular stood out to me. It focuses on black students employing African American Vernacular into digital texts. In this study groups of students were asked to create digital texts on topics of their own choice. During the course, students brought in their own culture and language. This study showed that by giving these students a socially and culturally relevant place where they can express themselves helps promotes a positive change and can help reduce the digital divide.

Based on my interest in this article, my research question for this module became centered around allowing students to incorporate their language and culture into regular assignments. I decided to focus specifically on writing. With that first article in mind, I focused mainly on African American Vernacular English (AAVE), though much of what I found could be used to incorporate any culture or language.

Research

One of the approaches we have been talking about in our cohort is Culturally Relevant Teaching (CRT). Here is a link to a YouTube video that introduces Culturally Relevant Pedagogy. What really stands out to me is the idea that all of our students come to school with their own unique culture. When we try to teach them only using a school culture viewpoint, we are missing learning opportunities for our students. When students can’t make a connection to what they are supposed to be learning, it is challenging for them to really learn and keep the information being presented to them.

In an article from Understood, it gives a basic overview of CRT. One of the things it mentions is that teachers should be viewing students’ backgrounds as an asset and using that to make connections in instruction. In this article, they share some specific examples of why it is such a powerful tool to reach all students. Just like with academic instruction you need to know where you students are coming from in order to help them make growth. Here is a quick sum of what they shared:

  • It raises expectations for all students – by tailoring instruction to students, teachers can create rigorous instruction
  • It helps students feel valued and empowered – when students are able to see themselves represented in their learning, they make connections and gain a sense of belonging
  • It builds cultural competence – this allows both students and teachers to learn about other cultures, gaining understanding and empathy
  • It works well with UDL – by incorporating UDL along with CRT there is an opportunity to create equity in the learning environment
  • It supports SEL – by including both SEL and CRT into your lessons intentionally, students feel valued

The article continues with steps that educators can take to incorporate practices of CRT into their classrooms. They are pretty simple and something that teachers could do fairly easily with some intentional planning.

After reviewing CRT, I focused in on some specific research about African American Vernacular English (AAVE) and education. By no means do I feel remotely close to an expert but I will share some of my thoughts. One idea that I appreciated came from an article in The Atlantic. It talked about how in our society we often see being bilingual as being an asset, so why don’t we see it the same way when it refers to dialects? By encouraging students to speak and create in the way that made the most sense to them, students were able to learn how to code switch between Standard English and AAVE. My takeaway here was how important it is for teachers to accept students for who they are and allow them to express themselves in a way that is true to themselves, while also teaching them the standard English skills they need to be successful in school.

Something I found in my research that caused me to reflect was that allowing students to write and speak in their own dialects has not always been encouraged. In some situations, instead of focusing on the information being shared by the students, they were corrected on the way they presented the information. With standardized testing and grading, it can be difficult to find the line between correcting students grammatically and respecting their culture. It is important to find these opportunities for students, so I looked into some digital tools that students could use to create literacies and share them.

Digital Tools

Storybird – This is a tool that I have used a little bit. Using this platform, students can create and share out their writing. It gives them the ability to bring their stories to life. Students could use this to share out in their own dialects and use it as a platform to share their own culture with their peers. It is pretty simple to use and the students I have used it with really enjoyed it. It is a resource that requires payment, so that is something educators would need to consider before adding this tool to their instruction.

Imagine Forest – This tool was shared to me by one of my cohort members. It is free to sign up. As an educator, you can create a class and add students. It is very similar to Storybird. Students can create their own stories and then publish them when they are finished. I haven’t used this in my own classroom yet, but I plan to in the future.

Conclusion

I have barely tapped in this research. There are so many resources available for teachers to make their instruction more inclusive. In my post, I focused on digital literacies that included writing, but there are more out there that students can use to share both their culture and their learning. They could create graphics, images, videos, music, or maybe even a combination. When we give students the opportunities to be their authentic selves there is no limit to what they can achieve. I would love to hear your thoughts below and any experiences you have had in your own instruction!

Resources

Brennan, William. (2018, March 8). Julie Washington’s Quest to Get Schools to Respect African-American English. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/04/the-code-switcher/554099/

Educator Team. (NA). Culturally Responsive Teaching: What You Need to Know. Understood. Retrieved from https://www.understood.org/en/school-learning/for-educators/universal-design-for-learning/what-is-culturally-responsive-teaching

Hall, Darryl Ted and Damico, James. (2018, June 21). Black Youth Employ African American Vernacular English in Creating Digital Texts. Journal of Negro Education. Retrieved from https://drive.google.com/file/d/1B889vsw-NiQT-19y2f5LD2G15OMr5DIi/view

Knapp, Melanie Hines. (2015). African American Vernacular English (Aave) In The Classroom: The Attitudes And Ideologies Of Urban Educators Toward Aave. University of Mississippi – eGrove. Retrieved from https://egrove.olemiss.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1963&context=etd

PBS. (NA). African American English. PBS. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/speak/education/curriculum/high/aae/#aaebrief

Written Englishes. (2013). Questions About Language Inclusivity. Written Englishes. Retrieved from https://w600writtenenglishes.wixsite.com/written-englishes/questions

2 thoughts on “Incorporating Student Language into Literacy

  1. What a great blog post! Culturally relevant teaching is sometimes so hard for educators to understand. I appreciate you sharing how important it is for students to be able to share using their authentic voice and how that makes the learning more meaningful. As educators we need to push ourselves and others every day to ask how are we allowing students to bring their strengths into their learning and how are we giving them a voice to do that. There are so many ways for students to demonstrate their understanding and we need to be open to that. I’m excited to check out the digital tools you shared and read the article from Understood.

  2. Culturally relevant pedagogy is so important and yet it also takes some work to dig into and understand. Especially for those of us who’s primary cultural identity is the same as the cultural majority. I think looking at dialects in a similar lens to second languages is an intriguing thought. It’d certainly allow us to provide better cultural support and engagement for our students. I think the following that you shared is key: “My takeaway here was how important it is for teachers to accept students for who they are and allow them to express themselves in a way that is true to themselves, while also teaching them the standard English skills they need to be successful in school.” In this way, we as educators can simultaneously validate and empower our students. Thanks!

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