February 26, 1998
HOW DOES AN EDUCATOR TEACH STANDARD ENGLISH IN URBAN SCHOOLS, AND IS IT NECESSARY?
In our society, there are many cultures with language and dialect variations, but Standard English is the language of the dominant culture. Therefore, it is necessary for all students to learn to write and speak Standard English effectively. However, for many students of Urban schools districts, especially African Americans, writing and speaking effective Standard English can occasionally pose a problem because many African American students speak a variation of Standard English (Black Vernacular Speech) whose linguistic patterns sometimes conflict with those of Standard English. It is true that African American speech is an essential aspect of their African American culture, so the educational system would be doing African American students a disservice by insisting that they learn Standard English as a primary discourse. It is also a fact however, that in order to be viewed as a successful, functional member of society, Standard English, if learned as a secondary discourse, should be written and spoken as fluently as the primary discourse.
As a Penn State student who received her high school diploma from an urban school district, I have found that often, students of urban schools have a difficult time becoming fluent writers and speakers of Standard English. According to the book Teaching Strategies for the Culturally Disadvantaged, Intelligence tests are usually linked with how well a student knows Standard English and the culture of the dominant race. Therefore, some students whose cultures vary from that of the žsocial normÓ are unlikely to be žwell readÓ or have exceptionally high IQ scores. And because it is often assumed that thinking is a product either of a lot of knowledge or a high I Q, the cognitive component of the education of students with cultures that vary from that of the dominant culture are usually either underplayed or completely neglected. As it is shown, students with cultural differences are often being mistaken for students with learning disabilities or cognitive deficiencies, so it is paramount that these students become fluent writers and speakers of Standard English, but how can this be done?
I have researched several books and journal articles about teaching Urban students to structure their writing in a Standard form, and I have found three suggestions that seem to be the most effective.
Allow students to use the writing process to their advantage. The writing process is composed of five main components, and each component is essential to the writer. Students should be allowed to place their ideas on paper without any restriction. Students should then be given constructive and positive feedback from the teacher. Finally, students should be allowed to revise their writing as many times as necessary because with teacher guidance and student revision, student writing can easily become structural masterpieces.
Encourage students to read and embrace literature. Reading is an excellent tool to help structure student writing without hindering ideas, style, and creativity. By reading literature, students are able to view various writing styles that are both structured and creative, and they can then use these writing styles as guidelines to create their own structured and creative writing style.
Avoid teaching practices that include rote and drill. It has been proven that students learn more effectively when they are encouraged to use their cognitive abilities instead of their memorization skills. And for students in urban areas, leaning Standard English is often difficult because many works of literature and educational activities are not designed to appeal to students with cultural differences. Hence, teachers should be more conscious of the novels and activities that they teach their class, especially if the novels contain material that may offend members of various ethnic groups. Teachers should use those novels to teach diversity instead of segregation.
Teaching students of urban schools Standard English as a secondary discourse is essential to their educational development and social acceptance, and teachers have the most influence in making language and writing relevant and worthwhile to students. Students of urban schools have a right to be given a chance to compete in our society, but their chances are being limited by the fact that their primary discourse differs from that of the dominant culture. The questions that I have raised for my inquiry project are important to me because I plan to teach in an urban setting, and to me, reading and writing are essential to financial and social survival in our society. I work as a counselor each summer at a sports camp in Philadelphia, and each summer I encounter very intelligent students who are placed in lower tracks or labeled as žlearning deficientÓ because of their language. This disturbs me because as a speaker of both Black Vernacular speech and Standard English, I know that students can learn to use Standard English just as I have. Unfortunately, many students are not privileged enough to have the same educational opportunities that I was given by my parents, therefore, it is my responsibility to teach these students Standard English the way that I have been taught. But I must learn more about teaching students and dealing with the issues that plague the educational system, and I am looking forward to receiving more of this knowledge during my pre-student teaching and student teaching experiences.