Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

African American Vernacular English in the Classroom

African American Vernacular English in the Classroom

Jean Calkins

This paper uses linguistic information and anthropological methodology to discuss African American Vernacular English, a dialect of English spoken by many African American students in U.S. schools, and White teachers’ knowledge about this form of English. This work seeks to explore what White teachers know and think is true about AAVE, and to what degree their ideas align with the current research on this dialect’s features, its history, and recommended classroom methods. Teacher attitudes are of secondary importance, as this article is mainly focused on their knowledge, rather than attitudes. Metro Detroit area teachers from elementary, middle, and high schools were interviewed about their knowledge pertaining to these topics, and their responses were compared to current academic literature and educational handbooks to see if they matched or differed, and in what areas. Based on the teachers’ responses, it can be assumed that teachers are not aware of most of the research and findings about AAVE, since most of them did not mention many of AAVE’s features, any of its history, or most best practices for teaching these speakers. This ignorance about the dialect could contribute to negative teacher attitudes about it. The participants also all stated that they had learned nothing or very little in college to prepare them for teaching students who speak this dialect, suggesting that teacher education programs are not equipping their students with this knowledge or stressing the importance of obtaining it. This is an area in which further research might explain these teachers’ lack of knowledge.

Keywords: African American Vernacular English, Ebonics, Teacher knowledge, Teacher education, Classroom dialects, Education

April 16, 2011 - Posted by | abstract

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