Jasmone Brockington

LLED 412

Inquiry Article #2

4/21/98

 

For the first section of my Inquiry Article, I posed the question: "How Does an Educator Teach Standard English in Urban Schools, and is it Necessary? I chose this question because I plan to teach in an urban school district, and I know urban students often have a difficult time learning to speak Standard English. I also know that speaking non Standard English can affect a student's acceptance and advancement in society. However, while completing my pre-teaching field experience, I did not have the opportunity to put my theory of teaching Standard English into practice. Instead, I was able to help students understand first, the immigration experience; second, the idea of language, and how difficult it is to learn a secondary discourse; and finally, why many individuals use dialects that differ from that of Standard English. I taught a two-day immigration and speech lesson that required students to become immigrants and learn a new language, and helping students understand another student's perspective was just as intriguing and rewarding as teaching students to speak standard English.

I began my lesson by explaining to students that they have just entered a new country, and that they must assimilate accordingly. I gave each student a passport, which informed them of their social class (working or lower class), and I gave them a few words from the new language that they must learn. I handed out currency according to social class, and with this currency, students were allowed to buy language forms if they could afford them. Students had to fill out registration forms that asked questions like, "What do you have to declare?; and Where do you plan to live and work?," and each student had to pass inspection before they could enter the country. I then gave students a registration exam, which was written in the language of the country, and students had to get a 60% or above to pass the exam and enter the country. Students who failed the exam were forced to work as servants of the country. Finally, the class had a discussion about the lesson, and they were asked questions like, "How does it feel to be judged on how well you speak a language instead of how smart you are and How did it feel to fail an exam and work as a servant?" I also read the oath of allegiance that immigrants said when they became members of the United States. Each of these activities allowed students to switch places with immigrants and understand how difficult it is for people of all nationalities to assimilate into a new culture and learn a new language.

The first lesson I conducted was about the immigration process. The lesson involved the students entering a new country with a new language, customs, etc. Of course, this lesson did not offer a precise account of the immigration experience, but it worked well enough to help students understand that many immigrants, especially those of lower and working class had a difficult time entering America. It also helped them realize how immigrants were treated; how some were separated from their families; and most importantly, that immigrants left their countries for political, social, and religious reasons, which allowed students to understand that African immigrants were not the only people who were forced to leave their country. During the discussion, which followed the lesson, many students made comments like: "I didn't know that African Americans were immigrants; and I thought people came to America because they heard that the streets were paved with gold, not because they couldn't practice their own religion." While addressing these questions, I felt privileged because I had the opportunity to give students a first-hand experience of immigration. I was actually able to alter some students' opinions of immigration, and to me, helping students reflect on an issue that they may have not thought of otherwise is the most rewarding aspect of education.

The second part of my lesson included teaching students the difficulty of learning a new language. I began by writing down ten common words from Amerbrock language. Some words were relevant and other were not, and students practiced these words aloud. I then sold language translation forms to students who were able to afford them (the forms could only be purchased by working class students.) At first, students were skeptical about purchasing the forms, and many of them said that they would rather work as servants. So I then had to explain to students that working as a servant is not a privilege. I also explained to the students some of the duties that slaves were forced to perform, and that going to school was not always an option for immigrants. The students then began to raise their hands for immigration forms. I went over each word with the students, and gave them 10 minutes to study before taking the registration exam. While the students were studying, I observed that no one was willing to share their forms with a student who could not afford to buy a form, and some working class students who purchased the form did not want me to go over the form with the other students. I then had to explain to the students that they were emulating the behaviors of some Americans, and their behavior is exactly why many immigrants did not pass their registration exams, which to me was a teachable moment. Finally, the students took the exam, which included questions from the registration forms. The students failed the exam so badly that I had to curve the results for some students, and have other students take the exam again. After the lesson, we had a discussion, and a lot of students were upset because they said they didn't have enough time to study. So I read the oath of allegiance to the students, which was written in such Standard English that I had to look up a few words. I then asked the students if anyone can tell me what the oath was saying, and nobody knew until I began to give the students hints. After we got through the oath, I asked the students if they could imagine being an immigrant, and not being able to understand the oath that they were taking for their new country. I also told them that I had to read the oath twice and look up a few words, and that I am studying English to teach it to others. I then asked students how it felt to be given a failing grade because of how well they understood a language instead of how smart they were. Many students replied that they felt stupid when other students passed and they had to work as servants. I told the students that immigrants had to deal with this type of embarrassment constantly, and that it wasn't a class assignment for them, so they could not look forward to the embarrassment being ended until they fully learned English and assimilated into the culture of the United States. This activity helped the students understand the difficulty of assimilating to a new culture and learning a new language, and I found this experience very rewarding because I know the students actually took something about language and immigration home with them.

The third lesson that I taught students was about it is so difficult for people who are not currently immigrants to learn Standard English. First we did an activity where I asked the students what they call a certain item like, shoes. Most of the students said that they call all shoes "shoes." I told them that in Philadelphia, we call shoes with a rubber sole "sneakers." I used a few more examples like this, and then we went into a discussion about dialect. I then proceeded to tell the students that when immigrants came to America, it was difficult for them to fully grasp the English language, so they began to say words and phrases that were easiest for them to remember. These immigrants would then use the words or phrases they created to speak to their children and so on. I told the students the meaning of dialect, and I explained how a primary discourse begins. I also told the students that in various cultures, i.e. Southern and Urban cultures, people make up their own variations to the English language, and there are very few people who actually speak and understand Standard English fluently.

The students really enjoyed this activity because they were able to hear discussion about dialect and slang words that they currently use. Teaching this activity had to be the most rewarding because I saw the look of confusion change to understanding on the faces of so many students. One student said to me after class, "I always wondered why my grandmother speaks so different, and uses words that I never heard of. Tonight I will go home and ask her about it." That made me feel like I helped students think about an issue that they may have never thought of, and it was great! I must admit that I was a little skeptical of the way this lesson would turn out because the first day I had some difficulty. But after seeing my students engaged and excited about a lesson that I created, I knew that I would one day be one of the "great" teachers that I idolize.