This blog post is the first of three in Lifting Every Voice: Valuing Black Language and Culture in Classrooms, a Reading Opens the World series. It is adapted from an American Educator article of the same name. Read the second and third blogs.
Register for the three Share My Lesson webinars the authors of this piece are giving.
Language is a central component of both culture and the educational process. The language that students bring to educational settings affects how they are treated and assessed in the classroom. Some students come to school already speaking the standardized variety of English that is valued and viewed as being the “most correct” in educational systems. Not surprisingly, these students are often more likely to succeed in school. Many other students come to school without already knowing the standardized variety, and as a result, they often face linguistic hurdles that can affect their opportunities for success in school.
We have been working throughout our careers as educators and researchers to create culturally sustaining pedagogy to ensure that all students in an increasingly diverse United States are educated in ways that enable them to achieve their highest potential. As a crucial part of doing so, we focus on variation within the English language and the relationship of that variation to cultural and racial identity.
Multicultural and culturally sustaining approaches to education help educators act on two essential concepts: that each student is unique and that uniqueness is central to the academic and social development of every student.1 Language is a key aspect of this uniqueness, and because language is integral to culture and identity, understanding language variation and diversity is critical to education equity.
All educators need knowledge and tools to honor and value students’ (and their families’ and communities’) language differences and variations, to understand and address any language-related challenges students may face, and to support students’ academic, social, and emotional development.
Efforts to help all students achieve their highest potential are incomplete without an understanding that linguistic discrimination, inseparable from racial discrimination, has historically limited African Americans’ access to opportunities afforded other citizens. Thus, we focus in this article on linguistic variations specific to African American English and ways educators can actively and creatively support Black students.
We take a three-pronged approach in this article, covering the value of Black language and culture; the relationships among race, culture, community, identity, and language; and the specific knowledge about language and race that is essential for educators. Each of these parts is accompanied by a webinar on Share My Lesson, plus other Share My Lesson resources full of practical strategies for effectively working with culturally and linguistically diverse students. It is our hope that through this approach, educators will increase their knowledge about language and culture and use it in their classrooms to lift every voice in ways that advance educational equity.
The Value of African American Language and Culture
Language varieties hold inherent value as markers of culture and identity. How a person uses language is shaped by the languages and language varieties of the communities that they are a part of as well as their individual experiences, including where they grew up, their friends and networks, personal styles, and more.
It is important for educators to understand that internalized linguistic racism and racialized ideologies about language can affect individual speakers, which is often characterized in research as linguistic insecurity.2 For students who use African American English, linguistic insecurity can manifest when they perceive that their language is devalued and when they do not receive linguistically and culturally appropriate feedback from educators. If students perceive their language is devalued, they may also perceive that they, along with their culture, communities, family, and friends, are being devalued. In turn, they may become discouraged in school and lose confidence in their educators.
African American English is an important part of African American culture. Because language is familial, cultural, and personally meaningful, we encourage educators to take a strengths-based perspective that accurately reframes language variation as a valuable cultural and linguistic resource.
As a key element of a strengths-based perspective on language and culture, we have created the Share My Lesson webinar, “Crafting Linguistic Autobiographies to Build Cultural Knowledge”. The linguistic autobiography guides educators and students to think about the social context of language, culture and identity. We demonstrate how to craft our linguistic autobiographies to build cultural and linguistic knowledge in our schools and communities and how to encourage others to share the linguistic and cultural riches they bring to our learning communities.
Register for the Share My Lesson webinar, “Crafting Linguistic Autobiographies to Build Cultural Knowledge".
About the Authors
- Anne H. Charity Hudley is a professor of education at Stanford University, where she focuses on the relationship between language variation and educational practices. She is a fellow of the Linguistic Society of America and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
- Christine Mallinson is the founding director of the Center for Social Science Scholarship, a professor of language, literacy, and culture, and an affiliate professor of gender, women’s, and sexuality studies at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
- Rachel Samuels is an elementary student support specialist in Williamsburg, Virginia. She was the 2019 Virginia Reading Teacher of the Year.
- Kimberly Bigelow is an assistant principal of literacy in Washington, DC; she has 15 years of experience as an elementary teacher and instructional coach. She is an AFT PD National Trainer.
- D. Paris and H. Alim, eds., Culturally Sustaining Pedagogies: Teaching and Learning for Justice in a Changing World (New York: Teachers College Press, 2017).
- D. Preston, “Linguistic Insecurity Forty Years Later,” Journal of English Linguistics 41, no. 4 (2013): 304-31.
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