Language Varieties in the American School System.

I recently submitted a final paper to my Literacy & Culture class @ UT. The topic was: The Use of Language During a Read Aloud. For those of you who aren’t familiar with “read alouds” they basically consist of the teacher reading a book to the class. They serve several purposes from reading for pleasure to teaching social activism.

In previous posts I have mentioned my reservations with the use of language varieties by the teacher in the classroom. In a more recent post I mentioned that my views about the use of language varieties in the classroom was changing. I think I may have made a major shift. After the pilot project I implemented in a 3rd grade bilingual class room I do believe that the use of code-switching and Spanglish in the classroom is ok. Really, it is. Let me further explain.

I decided to read four books to a class of bilingual children. There was obviously a spectrum of language proficiencies in the classroom. Not all children were “fully” bilingual. Some were Spanish dominant and others relied on code-switching more. As I was saying I read four books. One was a monolingual English book, one was a monolingual Spanish book, and the other two were code-switching books. When I read each book I, as the teacher, stuck with the language the book was written in. So, for example if there was code-switching in the book I code-switched whenever I spoke to the students. It was quite liberating!

Here were some of the things I noticed. The majority of the children chose to use the language I was using, which was also the language the book was written in. Here’s the interesting point. During the monolingual read alouds the conversations about the books related strictly to the content in the book. During the read aloud of the code-switching books, or what I was calling the culturally and linguistically relevant books, the conversations were not only about the content in the books, but about the children’s home lives! In fact, when I asked them to respond to a dilemma one of the characters was experiencing, which was one they could relate to; I found that the use of language for the written responses was irrelevant to the language I was using or the one the book was written in!!!

After I was done writing my 20 page paper I learned that if we use the language varieties the children bring into the classroom as a learning tool rather than focusing on getting them to constantly produce Standard  English or Standard Spanish, then maybe we will also develop critical thinkers! And by nurturing critical thinkers the language development will follow. That being said, if I were still a classroom teacher I would still make sure my lessons included the use of all language varieties including my pursuit of developing Standard Spanish or Standard English.