Position Paper

Have you ever wondered why you study your own language in school? What is the point in studying a language if you already know how to speak it? How many times have you heard teachers respond to such questions with the answers “Because that’s the rule.” or “You have to learn what is correct.”? How many valuable thoughts a student writes are passed over because the teacher is focused on grading usage conventions and hammering in the idea that Standard American English is the correct, esteemed way to use the English language (at least in the United States)?

My own experience with language when I was young was to accept the standard conventions my teachers enforced and to correct anyone and everyone who did not follow them. However, upon beginning linguistic studies as an undergraduate student, I learned more about the significance of language for the respective language speaker. Thus, I have taken the position, from my linguistic content knowledge and explorations in how to teach English, that teaching about language variation—particularly dialect—can make language study more meaningful and personal to students.

The study of dialect opens up discussion of language as a greater entity. Or, as Hazen (2001) explains, “The study of dialects offers a fascinating approach to learning about language” and explains to students how language changes over time, and therefore, includes ever evolving norms. In addition, by challenging the myths of dialect (Teaching About Language Variation, n.d.), teachers can show that as language changes, these variations and dialects nonetheless retain “beautifully complex, rule-governed systems.” This point, then, sets the stage for students to reach the conclusion that “there are no objective criteria for judging worth in language” (Do You Speak American, n.d.) because variations are natural, all variations are dialects, and all variations follow same basic patterns.

Furthermore, teaching dialect as a significant element of language can factor into analysis and evaluation of literature for the way it uses language.  For instance, having evaluated the linguistic definition of dialect, students can determine that particular usages and constructions show a speaker as a member of a given group (Sociolinguistics, n.d.), therefore contributing to characterization within a work. In this way, teaching about dialect opens students to considerations of dialectal worth and avoids immediate assumption that dialect use can only reflect “bad” grammar (Teaching About Language Variation, n.d.). Thus, lessons in dialect emphasize that such variation is not only a vehicle for a speaker, but a greater reflection of the speaker himself.

Along this same line, by understanding dialect and seeing how language can function in various settings and circumstances, students should be able to uncover the link between dialect and identity. In fact, Hazen (2001) lists this discovery as one of the two basic facts that will present themselves in an ideal dialect study. This is perhaps the most important benefit of teaching dialect because it brings students’ learning full circle to a more expanded understanding of language and its purpose. That is, students will see dialect as a reflection of region, social status, ethnicity, and gender (Wolfram, 1990) and be able to distinguish how dialect expresses each of these aspects of identity. In teaching truths about dialect and the possibilities for its usage, teachers show that dialect reflects who we are, where we belong, how we want to be seen, and what our expectations are. That is, teachers convey dialect as a tool for communication—the way a speaker both expresses identity and forges a link to others.

As a future English teacher, I believe my goal for my students should be to understand, analyze, and use language and communication skills effectively. By teaching about dialect—both in literary analysis and through grammar studies and dialect lessons—I will equip my students with a more solid background in language understanding. As the NCSU Linguistics Program website (n.d.) explains, through an investigation of dialect, “students will study language in terms of how it has changed over time, why it has evolved, how this growth affects them, and the role of language on a personal level as far as language ideology and language’s relationship to identity and ethnicity. Students will be able to explore authentic language and consciously think about how language is used by themselves and others.” Students who know how to use language variation and dialect to reflect themselves and speak to a given audience, and who can understand others’ reasoning for doing the same, will tap into the greatest manipulation of communication and a communicative understanding that will carry through to other content areas as well as everyday life. These students will therefore be masters of language, able to strengthen their link to others and be more successful real world livers and learners. RCA2011


 (n.d.). Do You Speak American | PBS. PBS: Public Broadcasting Service. Retrieved July 23, 2011, from http://www.pbs.org/speak/

Hazen, K. (2001). Teaching about dialects. ERIC Digest. Retrieved July 31, 2011, from http://www.cal.org/resources/digest/0104dialects.html

NCSU Linguistics Program | Dialect Education. (n.d.). North Carolina State University :: Welcome to North Carolina State University. Retrieved July 13, 2011, from http://www.ncsu.edu/linguistics/filsoncurriculum.php

Sociolinguistics. (n.d.). Home | The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Retrieved July 31, 2011, from http://www.unc.edu/~gerfen/Ling30Sp2002/sociolinguistics.html

Teaching About Language Variation. (n.d.). Department of English – West Virginia Dialect Project | WVDP Home | Eberly College of Arts and Sciences |  West Virginia University. Retrieved July 15, 2011, from http://dialects.english.wvu.edu/outreach/language_variations

Wolfram, W. (1990). Incorporating dialect study into the language arts class. ERIC Digest. Washington, DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics.





Hi everyone! Officially I’m Alexandra, but please, call me Ali. Alexandra has always felt too formal for me in everyday settings. I just graduated from UNC this past May with a double major in English and linguistics. Originally my second major was French, but after three years and a semester abroad when I had finished all but one final course for the French major, I decided to switch to linguistics. Even though I love French, I was quickly captivated by the linguistics classes I had been taking, and I noticed the connection between linguistics and the application of language in the classroom. Now I’m at NCSU in the MAT program for secondary English. My student teaching in the spring will be my first professional experience, although during my undergraduate years, I volunteered with Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools, and I taught an adult ESOL class through the Orange County Literacy Council. I’m looking forward to finally having my own English class—I’ve only been collecting books and posters for my classroom for years—though at one point I didn’t imagine I would be making the transition so soon.  Had you asked me several years ago, I would have said I wanted to take a few years off and be a Radio City Rockette/Broadway show swing before beginning my teaching career. I guess when you love something so much, putting it off is just not an option.

My teaching certification has been a long time coming. I began reading at the age of three, primarily because my mom loves to read and was always reading me stories and stocking my room with children’s books. She was a stay-at-home mom until I started school, and I was an only child, so we spent the days reading, and before she knew it, I was reading the stories by myself and begging for more. I think at first this was just because I really enjoyed reading, especially with my mom, but later I wanted to read because it was soothing to me. In the years leading up to school, and even during elementary school, reading was a way to find companions that I didn’t have at home. When I was lonely without kids my own age, I could find friends and adventures in the books I had.

This search for companionship and adventure is also what sparked my own writing. I had created an elaborate imaginary life for myself where I solved neighborhood crimes (Mary Kate and Ashley, Nancy Drew, and Encyclopedia Brown were big influences), and I began experimenting with fake diary entries and police reports from the perspective of my alter ego. Even as I grew older and my imaginary friends disappeared, the interest in imaginary characters and scenarios didn’t.

I was always bringing home order forms for book orders and book fairs because I was obsessed with the new ideas that were presented in books. I don’t doubt that The Baby-Sitters Club series, The Bailey School Kids series, the Anastasia Krupnik series, and Holes were influential to my developing imagination. Late elementary school, after having read these books, I settled into a pattern of writing short stories. When I won a county writing contest one year, I realized I was on to something.

As I grew older, my love for reading and writing developed into a need. I was growing up, deepening friendships, crushing on boys for the first time, managing school work, experimenting with makeup, trying to hide the massive gap between my two front teeth, and just generally navigating the young adult world. Reading was as soothing as ever, giving me answers to teenager problems and raising questions about adult problems. Writing was a way to figure myself out. I kept a folder of notes, poems, stories, and rants that helped me process what I was always thinking about. Using writing to process thoughts. And keeping a portfolio! These were techniques I enjoyed as a young reader and writer myself, and this class has given me ideas for how to implement them in my future classroom.

Then, as college preparatory classes became the sudden sole focus of my world, I stopped writing for myself, and I stopped reading anything just for pleasure. Luckily, I still enjoyed reading and decided to be an English major.

In college, my patterns of reading and writing began to shift again. I had more time to read, and my classes paved my discovery of new literature. It was there that I found and devoured Southern literature. It was also there that I began a literary affair with two men: Ernest Hemingway and John Keats. More notable for me, however, was the change my writing went through. At a time when I felt a lot of emotional turmoil over a gift I thought I had lost, I stumbled into a penpal situation with a soldier stationed in Iraq. Somewhere along the way, our letters became longer and more personal, and I wrote him my everyday musings as well as jokes and stories to keep him company. I had forgotten how much I enjoyed writing until he allowed me to do it for fun, without pressure of a word count or red pen. I had forgotten how much writing meant to me until he told me that my words did him good and got him through a lot of tough stuff. I’m still working on bringing back that kind of writing.

I’ve found this summer that my MAT classes have been helpful in pursuing that goal. The more I study to teach reading and writing, the more I am forced to engage in those very actions. I’ve already found that there is a lot of potential connection within graphic novels, and writing every day is the best way to keep the creative juices flowing.

Reflecting back on this literacy journey, it seems clear to me that my reading and writing follows an emotional path. From creating an imaginary friendship, to deliberately trying to elicit a response from a reader, to learning to be a lifeline for someone else, literacy for me is very personal. It’s an integral part of who I am and how I respond to and interact with the world around me.

One way to adapt this into my teaching is certainly to encourage those connections within and among my students. If there is one thing my personal experience has taught me, it’s that much more learning can be done than what is achieved through “assign and tell.” I know next to nothing about Content Area Literacy, but I do think teachers need to blend content and process and develop the content literacy of students—if only to make personal connections.

I hope this course can help me better learn how to do that for the high school English classroom. I’m particularly eager to learn more about scaffolded reading and how it can improve connections to the curriculum. With any luck, I’ll have a classroom full of students discovering their own “journey books” throughout the school year!

Well, I certainly learned plenty about Content Area Literacy throughout this class. At first, I wondered if content areas really applied to me as an English teacher, but I soon realized that the techniques and suggestions covered in the reading had particularly close ties to my curriculum. As I mentioned in one of my RAPs this session, “I especially enjoy learning about classes that other people are teaching because it gives me a better idea of things to expect, and it also gives me some insight into how I can make my own curriculum connect to what students are learning in their other classes.”

Among the things I learned for the first time, I found scaffolded reading and reading/writing connection techniques to be informational and things I feel I could easily implement into my classroom. Along with this, I also think that my SRE and basic WebQuest idea will be helpful for me to build upon. I look forward to using these lessons in student teaching or my first year classroom because I think they address important issues while using strategies that will boost learning.

Five weeks ago, I didn’t know what an SRE or a WebQuest was, and now I am looking forward to bringing this structured reading to my classroom to facilitate learning! I think the fact that I have learned about these tools, made my own examples, and come to understand the basis of their success shows how much I have learned in this class.

Coming into RCA instruction, I thought I was relatively fluent in ways to read (and write), but the many session discussions have opened my mind to new strategies that may help students who learn and read differently from the way I do. I’m sure this will be helpful to me as a teacher, and I am thankful for having had the opportunity to learn as much. RCA2011






WebQuest: Final Product

Below is the description of my WebQuest and the link to the product. I hope you enjoy!

Description: This WebQuest focuses on the concept of language variation, particularly as it applies to dialect. Ultimately, it is intended to serve as a sort of text-to-life bridge following a scaffolded reading experience on dialect. However, it can be used as a mini lesson that stands alone. Either way, the goal for the WebQuest is to introduce students to the flexibility within a language and to demonstrate that even dialects have grammatical rules and linguistic purpose. The WebQuest should challenge students’ preconceptions about language and what is “right” and wrong,” leading students to evaluate the linguistic connections to community, identity, situation, and culture.

Exploring Dialects WebQuest


New Literacies and Assessment

So far this summer, I feel that I have learned a great deal through my ECI 521 and ECI 541 classes, both of which included reading, blogging, tweeting, and some form of virtual meeting. When I was looking over the slideshow on connectivism created by Stephen Downes, the inclusion of wikis, readings, blogs, moodle, Elluminate discussions, Ustream, and Twitter was not lost on me. I can’t say that I am surprised at how these tools have been integrated into my summer classes because I have been gradually understanding from day one that my learning and my future role as a teacher would largely depend on how I could channel my own knowledge and make effective use of tools at hand. This whole time I have been exercising the techniques of connectivism without fully realizing it, and looking over my previous blog posts, I have to reflect and say Wow, I’ve learned a lot.

I want to be able to bring about this same result in my future classroom, so I do think it is vital to have students explore with available tools. Going along with that thought, I think that technological literacy is going to be key in creating a successful classroom because it will soon—if it is not already—be key to students’ success. Even now, digital books, online forums, social networks, and resources like Google have students relying on technology, and bit by bit, the students are forming their personal connected networks. In classrooms, making use of this technological literacy and expanding it can only help students to make the necessary connections between available resources and to apply them properly in order to enhance learning.

This idea, I believe, feeds into the idea of participatory learning because as students are expanding their literacies and networks and “construct[ing] and transvers[ing] those networks,” they are being active in their learning. Moreover, as students learn through others, they acquire a sort of participatory learning by proxy, having a personal connection to learning thanks to what their networks have provided. The examples provided by Jenkins in the “Transmedia” article highlight this link between connectivism and participatory learning and how important it is for learners today. The discussion of forums, fan fiction, and subcultures that arise from various media illustrates that participants not only engage in participatory learning of their own, but they also take in and build off of what has already been created by others, leading to a construction of various resources to be networked.

To me, this discussion also reinforces the participatory nature of literature and communication which impacts how I view the learning to be done in my English classroom. If students are capable of developing such rich networks and participation outside of school, there is great potential for boosting academic learning by bringing these techniques to the content area classroom.

I purposely mentioned layer two of this CCI first because I think my thoughts on the necessity of connection and personal accountability and ownership in learning through new literacies must impact how I assess my students. As the Gillespie et al. article points out, “Herman (1992) states that good assessment is based on current theories of learning and cognition and is grounded in views of what skills and capacities students will need for future success.” From the readings on new literacies, it seems that connectivism and participatory learning are the hot topics in learning theory, so they therefore must be taken into account in developing assessment.

I would imagine that in an English classroom, the concept of formative assessment based on connectivism and participatory learning is not terribly difficult to implement. More than subjects such as science and math which often produce concrete answers, English studies can tend toward the subjective and be based on reasoning and argument that arise from deeper connections. I cannot always use multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank or IDs to fully gauge the connections that are being made within and among the students in my classroom. These sorts of questions are generally better for evaluating plot comprehension, and while this is important, simply understanding the plot does not activate higher-order thinking skills.

Instead, for an English class, I prefer the portfolio and formative assessment. Portfolios of student writings (particularly workshopped pieces), journals that adapt the Think Aloud technique, and “I Learned” statements as a sort of exit slip are all techniques that I think I could easily and effectively incorporate into a classroom. As the two articles and the Vacca et al. text reiterate, the portfolios and formative assessments open the door for more interaction in the classroom, and they allow students to take ownership of learning. This assessment strategy is good for literature because students can reflect on personal or universal connections to the text, and it is equally good for writing which, when taught as a process, necessitates conferencing and participation to fully develop.

My point is that the basic ideas of connectivism and participatory learning can shine through in assessment and reflect the importance of these techniques on a learning outcome. Even more seemingly concrete assessment tools such as rubrics can become more interactive when students are asked to reflect on what learning was important for an assignment and what evaluations would best fit on the respective rubric.

Given the positive experiences in learning that I have had through my participatory MAT classes, I am convinced that an interactive, learner-centered classroom is the best choice for inspiring and encouraging both immediate and lifelong learning. RCA2011

WebQuest Prelims

Description: This WebQuest focuses on the concept of language variation, particularly as it applies to dialect. Ultimately, it is intended to serve as a sort of text-to-life bridge following a scaffolded reading experience on dialect. However, it can be used as a mini lesson that stands alone. Either way, the goal for the WebQuest is to introduce students to the flexibility within a language and to demonstrate that even dialects have grammatical rules and linguistic purpose. The WebQuest should challenge students’ preconceptions about language and what is “right” and wrong,” leading students to evaluate the linguistic connections to community, identity, situation, and culture.

Introduction: A student at the local high school has been receiving constant grade penalties for using dialectal constructions in class presentations and papers. The student’s Social Studies teacher complains about the disregard for correct English and chides the English teacher for not properly teaching her class. A debate ensues among the faculty and administration. After several weeks of arguing, the local school takes the issue to the school board where the governing panel will vote on an amended English curriculum that includes explicit instruction and enforcement of Standard American English grammar.

Task: You are going to play the role of jury/judge in the trial of language variation. By working through the WebQuest activities, you will see and hear claims from both the prosecution and the defense. Your job is to hand down the verdict at the end of the trial, answering the question Should language variation in academics be condemned? Upon completion of the WebQuest activities, you will compose either 1) a letter to the editor in which you state your beliefs on how the hearing should progress or 2) a speech to present at the school board hearing expressing your thoughts on the presence of language variation in academic settings. RCA2011

Reading and Writing to Learn

I’m a believer in writing to learn, and because I share the view that writing and reading are two sides of the same coin, I’m necessarily a believer in reading to learn. The two ideas are closely linked, possibly unable to be separated in my mind. Fortunately, I am working toward being an English teacher, so it is more or less my job to focus on both the writing and the reading. I won’t be assigning chapters from a bulky textbook with lists of technical jargon the way a chemistry or calculus teacher might be. Vocabulary in my classes will consist of some literary terms, but the vast majority will more likely be words that students come across in a piece of literature: everyday or obscure words that will help clarify the meaning of a sentence but may not be useful to memorize for a test.  Still, we will be learning vocabulary because we will be building our reading and writing experiences, and the more we work with words, the more we learn them. The more we read and write, the more we can read and write, and the better we become at reading and writing.

I suppose the readings this week felt like pages I could photocopy and give directly to my students. Suggestions on building vocabulary, writing, and studying texts are tips I can easily incorporate into my lesson plans. In a class where reading and writing are the focus and activities should seek to strengthen these processes, new ways to learn vocabulary, ideas for graphic organizers, and ideas for making notes about the reading or writing about reading are like the veteran teacher’s file cabinet. There are many ideas to pick and choose, and whenever I need a new strategy, I can turn to the pages of Vacca, Vacca, and Mraz for inspiration. There are few other requirements in the English classroom that would prevent me from using many or all of these techniques.

For this reason, I have lumped the two layers together this week. I feel that as an English teacher, my abilities to teach conceptual knowledge are going to be very deeply rooted in the process of writing, particularly writing to learn, since reading and writing are so connected. So, my response to how I can build conceptual knowledge in my classroom is really just a part of my answer to how I can use writing in new ways, especially to learn.

The first item I reflected on this week was the topic of vocabulary. I am including this as a subcategory of reading and writing because, in fact, I am familiar with the term “concept” as well as what it is, how we form one, and how we fit words into it. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I have to go back to what I have learned about concepts linguistically, and that means that they are very complicated and have several theories tied to them. However, what does seem to be clear is that concepts and the way we encode and retrieve words are based in some interaction between the lemma (semantics and syntax) and the morpho-phonological form (morphology and phonology). This is all very wordy, but my point is that we don’t encode and classify a word based on its definition alone. There are other factors and usages to consider. A student needs to encounter a word, see it used, hear it used, play with it, compare it to other similar words in order to get a complete picture. So, reading and writing are vital to vocabulary building.

So too are they vital to comprehension. Barring any severe restraints from unknown vocabulary, reading can open up a whole world of knowledge. This is probably why we have textbooks that serve to condense all of the major points into a single volume (or 3 if it’s a Norton) for students. The idea is that students will read and learn. Sometimes, however, teachers leave it at that. I actually had a teacher once who stood in front of our class and declared that she was not there to teach us, and by reading the textbook, we could learn everything by ourselves. Well, that’s great for the student with a photographic memory and a test that asks you to regurgitate facts, but what happens when that isn’t the case?

I think this is where writing comes in. Not only can taking notes help students remember ideas by encoding the information through a different process, but the act of making notes or otherwise writing can help students work out what they think about the subject matter. The graphic organizers, cognitive maps, and Cornell notes in Vacca et al. are examples of this. Whether a student prefers a messier, more organic way of connecting or a streamlined, symmetrical method, visual representations and notes can give a glimpse at what is happening inside the mind and make further connections more clear to the thinker. A student I once tutored who had some learning disability would struggle daily with his assigned readings. He couldn’t read a chapter and answer the questions as his teacher had intended for him to do. While he had trouble comprehending cause and effect or timelines or larger implications a text hinted at, he could understand connections when they were drawn out explicitly on paper. He is my first-hand understanding that writing can be a way to read.

It seems then that what I am boiling my opinion down to is writing. Writing to learn.

I never got to do a lot of writing in my high school English classes. Every year we would inevitably have the culmination research project, but aside from that, writing included taking notes and answering sets of comprehension questions about the reading. I never had a journal or short admit/exit slips to reflect on what I was learning. Then, whatever we did write was expected to be turned in as it was. We didn’t workshop our pieces or even share finished products. (I think this was probably due in part to a strict curriculum and in part to preparation for the AP exam where you have a set number of minutes to write and you just go and move on). I fear, as Spires et al. also conclude, that too many English classrooms are moving in this direction. I already see so many that do not even think to cover creative writing. And some don’t address poetry! Although I didn’t have all of the writing opportunities I would have liked in high school, I had already been awakened to the brilliance of writing. I worry that students are missing out on this today.

I plan to incorporate as many of the ideas from this week’s reading as I can in my lesson plans. I want to set up writing workshops and response journals where students can play around with their writing until they begin to get a feel for it. Writing frames, dialogues, point-of-view guides, and unsent letters will encourage new kinds of writing and higher level thinking, moving students away from the standard absorb and recount. In this way, I seek to emphasize writing as a process through which students can learn more about what they have to say. This is the same basic idea that Spires et al. present by saying “we believe that as students derive a sense of self through autobiographical readings and writings, they have the opportunity to create a foundation on which to build as they continue to develop their academic voices in conjunction with other academic reading and writing endeavors.” The writing techniques in my classroom should open students to writing as a link to reading, allow students to find where they fit in their writing and where their writing fits in them, foster a true understanding (rather than comprehension) of the course material, and bridge a student’s overall learning in several capacities.

Just last week I reflected in my RAP that I enjoy reading blogs by teachers in other content areas because I can learn more about how my classes might interact with other content area classes. Is there any better way for this to happen than through writing? If I equip my students with the confidence and belief in writing that can help them learn about themselves, am I not opening the door for them to learn about the world around them through personal connections? Can they not carry suggestions about graphic organizers and summaries to their other content classes to gain more from the textbook and lectures? Writing to learn indeed. RCA2011


I.                    Introduction

Context: This SRE is intended to introduce a linguistic concept of dialect to a high school English class. Given that I am a preservice teacher, I am unable to give contextual information for a class that I am currently teaching or have taught in the past that may benefit from this SRE. Therefore, I am assuming a setting similar to that of Forsyth Central High School in Cumming, GA. Having grown up in north Georgia, I am familiar with the general background information of Forsyth County, and I know students who went to school there although I personally did not. I decided to choose FCHS because it is located in the county seat, and information about the school and the surrounding city is readily available.

Forsyth County is located in north Georgia. It is known in the area for its marked demographic breakdown which, as of the 2000 census, was 95.05% white and less than 1% African American (which I am adding into the consideration given the material students will be asked to read for this SRE). Based on the data available so far from the 2010 census, the demographics have altered slightly, but not significantly, at 89% white and 2.5% African American. This is in stark contrast to the city of Atlanta—less than a one hour drive from Cumming—which is currently 38% white and 54% African American. In addition, Forsyth County is one of the wealthiest counties in Georgia, and it has a history of severe racism.

The makeup of FCHS is comparable to that of the surrounding community. Classes are likely to consist of a majority of white students with a few African American, Hispanic, and Asian students. They will typically come from upper-middle class or upper class backgrounds. The particular class I would teach would be 12th grade Advanced Composition which is a required class for students on the on-level track. It is a 55 minute class with between 20 and 30 students. One of the focal points of the course is literary types which is where this unit will be used. The arrangement of the classroom will depend on the particular activity in progress and whether it incorporates whole group participation, individual work, or small group work.

I have specifically chosen FCHS as an assumed setting for my project because the text for this SRE is The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. On one hand, this text is on the approved reading list for Forsyth County high schools, so I wouldn’t have to worry about acquiring prior approval for the reading material. On the other hand, given the demographic statistics of the county, I would imagine that the dialect spoken by the characters in The Bluest Eye is not a native dialect for the majority of the students, and students may even have predetermined feelings about it. For this reason, I believe that the text will function well as an introduction to dialect and its multicultural and literary properties. Based on the text from page three (which I consider the most accurate page to measure since pages one and two recite lines from Dick and Jane), The Bluest Eye scores a 74.6 on the Flesch Reading Ease scale and a 7.2 on the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level scale. These scores suggest that the book is very easy to read and perhaps below my targeted grade level. However, the subject matter of the book, including incest, seems more appropriate for an older audience. The Forsyth County reading list also approves the book for 12th grade only.

I expect that my students will be typical 12th graders with average reading ability and language competency for their grade level. In their previous three years of high school, these students would have completed World Literature and Composition, American Literature and Composition, and British Literature and Composition, so they should be well-versed in various pieces of literature and basic literary techniques.

Philosophical/Theoretical Rationale: As a preservice English teacher who also has a degree in linguistics, I find that students’ native languages as well as understanding of language in general can greatly impact the learning they do. Even more, I believe that the way an English teacher understands language can shape the way he or she teaches literature to students. For this SRE, I decided to begin a linguistic introduction to dialect because I ultimately seek to create a classroom where students exhibit significant reader response. My theoretical rationale is that when students are able to make personal connections to the literature they read, their learning takes on more real life application and begins a self-perpetuating cycle. For texts such as The Bluest Eye that may elicit little to no immediate personal response among students, an understanding of dialect should increase multicultural awareness and help students feel more connected to the characters and the themes of the book, allowing students to then pull out their own real life application.

II.                  Lesson Plan

Instructional Objectives: Upon completion of the SRE, students should be able to demonstrate understanding of how dialect creates characterization and can highlight the overall themes in a work.

Upon completion of the lesson, students should meet the Georgia ELA12LSV2 standard which includes the expectations that students a) identify and evaluate strategies used to inform, persuade, entertain, and transmit culture (i.e., advertisements, perpetuation of stereotypes, use of visual representations, special effects, language) and b) critique a speaker’s diction and syntax in relation to the purpose of an oral communication and the impact the words may have on the audience.


IDEA website on computer Provided by teacher Prereading
Whiteboard Provided by teacher Prereading, Postreading
Notebooks/notecards Provided by students Reading
Pens/Pencils Provided by students Reading, postreading
Copies of The Bluest Eye (25-30) Provided by teacher Reading
Poster/Prezi/PowerPoint/CoSketch(in computer lab if necessary) Provided by teacher Postreading
Journal Entries Provided by students Postreading

Prereading: (30 mins)

To introduce a discussion of dialects, I will use the IDEA website where there are several accessible recordings of speakers with various dialects, broken down by region. I will select dialects from various parts of the United States, including some from the state of Georgia which should be somewhat similar to what students would hear every day. Without telling students what they are listening to, I will play sound bites of the various recordings and ask students to jot down their thoughts on the speaker, including gender, age, race, native region, etc. After playing all of the dialect samples, I will begin a discussion with the students based on what they heard and recorded in their notebooks. To begin, we will go over several examples of what students assumed from hearing the speakers. Then, I will ease into reflective discussion by posing questions such as “Why do these speakers talk so differently even though they are all speaking English?” Throughout the half hour of allotted discussion time, I will let the students pose and answer most of the questions, speaking up to clarify confusion or to get students back on track if they wander in their discussion. At the same time, I will be writing key ideas from the discussion on the whiteboard for student reference. As the vocabulary words come up in conversation (dialect, language, culture, slang, accent, etc), I will also write those on the board and encourage students to keep thinking about what each of the words means and how they relate to each other. Near the end of the discussion time, I will steer students toward coming up with a working definition of dialect that they can reflect upon while completing the rest of the SRE activities. This vocabulary word and definition will form the foundation of the lesson.

Reading: (1 week)

The reading portion of the lesson will take place in the classroom as silent reading and outside of the classroom as homework. Students will have a week to complete The Bluest Eye since it is longer than a selection from a textbook and they will have time to work on it outside of class. During reading, students will keep a dialectic journal, dividing their page into two columns as follows:

Passages from the text Connections and Analysis
Here, students will make notes of instances when dialect is used in the text. For the most part, this will consist of examples of African American English. These may be examples that the student is familiar with or has never heard before, as long as they are dialect. In cases where comparisons may be made between Standard American English and a counterpart in African American English, the student may choose to write down both examples. Here, students will jot down notes about connections that can be drawn from the dialect passage or other things that are of note at that point in the novel. For example, a student might write how the dialect emphasizes the social background of the speaker. In addition, it may be worth noting the setting or race or persona of the speaker in order to go back later and draw further connections.

Additionally, students will need to keep a vocabulary list while they read. If they choose, this can initially be done in the margins of the journal entries, but ultimately, the vocabulary should be written out on a separate sheet of paper or notecards. At the end of each class period, there will be a brief postreading activity of vocabulary discussion. Any slang or dialectal terms that students may not know will be defined so that students will not have trouble interpreting the effect of the dialect on the piece as a whole.

Throughout the reading part of the SRE, there will also be discussion activities for part of the classroom time. Main ideas from each night’s reading will be covered, and students will be encouraged to share observations they made regarding the use and effect of dialect. This should be a mix of informative and reflective discussion.

Postreading: (3 days)

Upon completing the assigned reading, students will break up into several groups of 4 or 5 students, depending on the size of the class. However, 4 would be the ideal group size. Once in their groups, students will work together to discuss the ways dialect serves to enhance the novel. That is, the ways that dialect serves as a literary tool. Students will be allowed to use their journal entries to review the connections they made and bounce ideas off of each other. Once the group has made a decision on the major ways they think dialect serves the novel, they will create a collaborative project to present to the class. Students are allowed to choose a collaboration tool of their choice, but suggestions include posters, PowerPoint presentations, Prezis, or CoSketches. Whatever tool each group chooses to use, it should develop a map that illustrates the connections the group has made. Examples may be connections to other literary devices, characterization, themes, etc. The map should be supplemented with evidence from the text and personal experiences. After having a day and a half to collaborate with their group and draw out their project, the groups will then present their finished products over the course of the remaining day and a half. Following each presentation, the students listening will be encouraged to ask questions or make comments to extend the discussion initiated by the group. Ultimately, the students should be making more personal connections to the material after having taken time to reflect.

Assessment: For the most part, assessment of this SRE will be based on active participation by the student. I will assign completion grades for the journal entries each day, meaning that students simply need to make an effort to enter passages from the daily/nightly reading, comment on them, and make note of any troublesome vocabulary. For the prereading discussion and daily journal discussions, I will evaluate students based on a participation inventory that marks their enthusiasm, question raising, listening, idea sharing, and response. Finally, for the group project, I will assign a letter grade as determined by a rubric that students will view ahead of time. The rubric will cover the appropriate medium for the project as well as the types of connections students should make and the examples that they give from the text and personal experiences. It will also take into account the quality of group collaboration, including what elements of the project/presentation each group member carried out.

Question Labels:

Prereading: What is dialect? What do I know about dialect? What would I like to learn about dialect? How does dialect define a person? How does dialect impact language? (Remembering, Understanding)

Reading: How does dialect function? What other elements connect to dialect? How might dialect influence the reading of this passage? What are these words? (Understanding, Applying, Analyzing)

Postreading: How has my definition of dialect changed? What is dialect? How does dialect serve as a literary device? What deeper connections can be made through dialect? How has my interpretation of the text been influenced? What connections does this make to my own life? How can I take this knowledge and apply it to other texts? (Understanding, Applying, Evaluating, Creating)

III.                Evaluation

Since I am a preservice teacher and schools are out for the summer, I was unable to fully implement my SRE with an actual class. However, I enlisted the help of my roommate and my mom in order to give me some basic feedback. They are both older than my target student would be, but neither of them have read The Bluest Eye, so I at least was able to teach the lesson to fresh minds. Since they could not read the whole novel in time to evaluate my SRE, I selected passages that exhibit African American English as well as a few that use Standard American English.

The prereading portion went well because neither “student” has a background in linguistics, so the concept of dialect was something new to explore. However, without a full class, I was unable to have the type of discussion I had planned for. Neither my mom nor my roommate expressed any overt judgments of speakers of various dialects, though they mentioned stereotypes they knew of such as the impression of stupidity that comes with a southern accent.

The reading portion was fairly simple to implement because my mom and roommate easily made journal entries about the passages I gave them, and they didn’t have vocabulary difficulty that younger students might have.

The postreading portion was also difficult to fully apply because I couldn’t place my “students” in small groups, but each of them was still able to verbally make connections to dialect and characterization. Then, upon further prompting by me, they each agreed that the lesson was helpful because it opened them up to new understandings of dialect which they wouldn’t normally cover in a class. My roommate in particular stated that she thought the lesson was helpful in influencing the way she viewed the book in terms of its authenticity and characterization. Her reader response seemed to deepen through a consideration of dialect, so I felt that overall my main goal was met. RCA2011


Census Bureau Home Page. (n.d.). Census Bureau Home Page. Retrieved July 16, 2011, from http://census.gov

English Language Arts and Reading 9-12. (n.d.). Georgiastandards.org. Retrieved July 16, 2011, from georgiastandards.org

Forsyth County Schools Home. (n.d.). Forsyth County Schools. Retrieved July 20, 2011, from http://forsyth.k12.ga.us

IDEA – The International Dialects Of English Archive. (n.d.). Information Technology. Retrieved July 15, 2011, from http://web.ku.edu/~idea/index.htm

Morrison, T. (2007). The bluest eye:  a novel. New York: Vintage International.


This particular discussion is a bit of a difficult one for me because again, I am approaching it from the perspective of a student, and a motivated one at that. When I reflect about why I think I am a motivated learner, I keep coming back to an idea of conversation. I think, on some level, there is always a conversation that I want to have that requires me to partake in further learning. For example, when I took Linguistics 101, my TA would casually mention the more complicated theories of syntactic theory or phonology, and I would think to myself that I would need to talk about those things in terms of English. So, I continued taking linguistics classes to build my knowledge base because I needed to know more. This same process seems to be behind all of the learning I like to do, even just reading books. Somehow, a spark of interest catches me, and I want to be able to know enough to share it with other people. Maybe this is my innate teacherness coming through. Or maybe it is a byproduct of being from a family that likes to play Jeopardy and Cash Cab during dinner. Either way, I have come to believe that my mind is the best thing I have, and learning more makes me feel active, engaged, and worthwhile.

I’m not sure how much new material I learned from the readings this week. I will admit that I am at least broadly familiar with the subject of cognitive psychology, and in 7th grade, I was introduced to the fascinating concept of metacognition. (Hence the blog title.) So, many of the techniques introduced in the Vacca et al. readings are ones I have heard of or tried at one time or another. Some I have personally enjoyed (story impressions, guided imagery, anticipation guides), and some I have not (active comprehension, expectation outlines).

However, for the material I already knew, I also do think the readings reinforced my belief in making connections to learning material. Like Vacca et al., I share the belief that true interest and learning come from passion and engagement (side note: the fact that the Spires and Donley research supports the findings of reader response is rather gratifying in this respect), and therefore, I think that the presented techniques, regardless of my personal feelings about them, have their own merits for the way they engage readers. As Spires and Donley point out in their article, the traditional classroom text assumes that the reader is a “passive receptor of information” (read: unengaged), yet cognitive research shows that making connections is a way to improve and facilitate comprehension. I think then that these examples of prior knowledge activation are necessary components of the reading process if reading is to be a vehicle for learning.

I also have to introduce trade books into this engagement element of comprehension, but again, I come at this topic from somewhat of a skewed position.  As an English student, my classes (in college as well as high school) were heavy on the trade books. Even when we had textbooks, the trade books were more likely to make up the majority of the class material, and even some textbooks would essentially be reproducing portions of trade books. This experience, while perhaps not the norm for a content area student, has proved the proved the value of the trade book to me anyway.

However, I can also take a step back from my own content and remember my time in other content areas where I read trade books for class. As I can best recall, trade books were always a popular choice for summer reading. Even though Vacca et al. suggest that nonfiction is not as popular as it could be outside of the textbook, I’ve realized that nearly all of my exposure to nonfiction works (Blink, Founding Brothers, Hardball, Stiff) has been in the form of a trade book read for a content area class. In each of these instances, I will wholeheartedly agree that the trade books were infinitely more interesting than the textbooks, especially for history which I typically have a hard time reading.

My preference again has to do with interest and the feeling of being engaged. Even when I don’t enjoy a textbook or necessarily breeze through it, I don’t have a hard time reading it or understanding what it says. Usually I just can’t let myself get lost in it because the material is dry and, as Vacca et al. point out, not directed toward the reader. In the terms of Probst, the textbook text is just “print” because it doesn’t allow me to fully read. That is, I look at the words on the page, remember them even, but they don’t mean anything to me. Textbooks tend to be very superficial, covering as many basic points as possible, and I prefer to delve more deeply into specific topics, to participate in my own “symbolic functioning.” Tradebooks by nature are more likely to support this because they are not written as an intermediate step to a test. They have been written out of some author’s interest or compulsion, and in my experience, that sort of writing encourages aesthetic reading. So, I have to believe from my own experience and my time working with others that tradebooks are indeed a valuable element in the classroom–particularly in the content areas where the text may be difficult for students to read and/or understand.

As I always say, the ultimate goal of education is to inspire that lifelong learning that self-perpetuates, and teaching students to interact with their material is the way to do that, whether by building comprehension through engaged reading techniques or by introducing trade books to the curriculum. RCA2011

Conversation and Discussion

I shy away from anything involving emphasis on discussion. When I would choose classes during undergrad, I preferred the descriptions that mentioned lectures rather than discussion sections. I realize I am probably in the minority here (especially considering that even the handout on social constructivism makes the assumption that students love to work in groups, presumably discussing) but there is something about discussion that rubs me the wrong way. I always find that the emphasis is placed more on the fact that students say something than on what they really say. This is a sort of quality versus quantity issue with points made when raising your hand. Then inevitably, there are always one or two students who dominate the discussion and drive everyone else insane because they either talk about things that are obvious or irrelevant, or they take on a tone that makes them seem pompous. I don’t want to discuss in an atmosphere like that. I am by nature a very shy person (despite my wordy blog posts and frequent tweets) and I feel uncomfortable talking when I don’t feel that I have something meaningful to contribute. Over the years I have heard that I should talk more, but something seems very superficial about talking just to talk. If I am saying something, I like for it to be important and not just blabbering for the sake of increasing my grade by a point or two.

Having said this, I should also point out that since being in college, I have found that discussion does not actually have to be a terrible thing. Under the right conditions, a discussion-based classroom can truly bring learning to life and fuel that need to understand. I can see that this is why discussion is so popular, and this is what teachers aim for in increasing classroom participation, so I think it is indeed helpful to strive for this sort of classroom environment. Based on personal experience, I think the best way to achieve this careful balance of discussion is to ensure that no single student or group of students dominates the discussion, and the discussion moves in the direction of reflective comments.

First and foremost, discussions should be a resource for the students. It should not be a way for teachers to avoid teaching material, nor should it be a way to simply assign a daily grade. For these reasons, I like the strategies of guided discussion that Vacca et al. present. There is still an emphasis on presenting information, so students are not likely to be overwhelmed by random comments from other students needing to speak up.  In addition, the guided discussion can incorporate some pre-discussion activities (questions to think about in advance, small group work, etc.) that will encourage the more shy or unsure students to participate since they already have something to say. I know from my personal experience that when I can take the time to prepare something I really want to say, I feel better about discussions in general.

On the other hand, discussions cannot be strictly informational either or they become more like participatory lectures. Instead, they must be an offshoot of learning, a sort of organic derivative that develops because students are genuinely interested and invested in the material. For me, this means that after gaining “a solid understanding of the important concepts they are studying,” students will take one step further to begin questioning and forming connections. I think this is where reader response and social constructivism come in during the discussion, and they serve a key purpose. Once basic information has been covered, students can then take what they experienced through the reading, what they already know, and what they are learning, and they can mix these elements together to bring about the reflective discussion that actively engages them. Not only is this part of the discussion helpful for getting students to talk since they should feel comfortable talking about experiences that are close to them, but it also encourages higher level thinking and learning. This should be the main focus and goal of a productive discussion.

Even given my history of discussion avoidance, productive discussion in an encouraging atmosphere is what I seek for my own classroom. My own lessons on teaching and developing an inclusive, participatory classroom have taught me that it is not the discussion that is important, it’s the collaboration. And a good discussion is all about active collaboration. RCA2011

Scaffolded Reading

When I first came across the term “scaffolded reading” in the course materials, I was confused. I had never heard the term before, and while the name gives some hint at its function, I was unsure of the exact definition. When we had our first optional Live class, a discussion of what we had learned in orientation prompted me to say I have no idea what scaffolded reading is. As a pre-service teacher, I must rely on my experiences of this technique in the classroom, and I don’t have many that I recall. When I consider the scaffolded reading and instruction in my own middle school and high school years, what I remember most seems to fall under the categories of note taking and test taking strategies. Sure, we were taught to fill out the three column note page with what we knew, what we wanted to know, and what we learned. And when we read passages on standardized tests, we should ask ourselves similar questions after first looking over the answers and then skimming the passage. But what about in the everyday reading, lecturing, and learning? What I remember most was that we were assigned material to read, we read it, and then the teacher talked about it, sometimes with our participation. Other than note taking while we read, there were not many pre- or during-reading activities that stood out. In particular, I think there was a glaring lack of multicultural scaffolding in those classes. Perhaps I am only picking out the multicultural element because of the focus of this week’s chapter, but after the discussion on dialect and multicultural readings, I can see that there was a wealth of potential learning left untapped by the lack of scaffolding. How much more meaningful would The House on Mango Street have been for me (as a student in the most culturally diverse school in metro Atlanta) if I had participated in multicultural scaffolding instead of picking out the stylistic elements of Cisneros’ vignettes? This makes me think that scaffolded reading has the ability to bring more critical thinking to the classroom materials, and certainly, I imagine a great deal of scaffolding can be done with regard to multiculturalism.

I was intrigued to read about scaffolded reading in the Vacca, Vacca, and Mraz text because of the way it addresses instruction for the diverse classroom. In my school experience, English Language Learners were restricted to an ESOL class of their own where they did not interact with native English speakers in core-subject classrooms. The techniques for scaffolded instruction pertaining to diverse classrooms are therefore mostly new to me, with the exception of several adaptive instruction suggestions (strategies for vocabulary development, repeated reading, active engagement, and writing strategies) I was taught in ESOL training through the Orange County Literacy Council and Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.

In particular, I am very interested in the linguistic application of scaffolded reading and adaptive instruction. When dealing with a person’s native language—including dialect—there is so much to take into consideration regarding how it affects perception and learning. The authors bring up the excellent point that “language differences should not be mistaken for language deficits.”  Furthermore, “all students should understand how cultural contexts influence what they read, write, hear, say, and view.” There is of course a place for Standard American English, but in this discussion of the diverse classroom, it is important to point out that Standard American English is nonetheless a dialect, and no dialect is right or wrong or better or worse.

As I am hoping to point out in my own scaffolded reading project, pre-, during- and post-reading activities on dialect perception and influence can open up greater understanding for students toward culturally different populations. Then, I think scaffolded reading has the possibility to expand student collaboration by developing a sense of camaraderie in the classroom and therefore fostering deeper personal understanding and connection to the presented materials.

In this ever-increasingly multicultural society, it’s time to bring such carefully thought out scaffolded reading to the forefront, emphasizing meaningful, relevant reading. RCA2011