The Role of Instructors' Sociolinguistic Language Awareness in College Writing Courses: A Disourse Analytic / Ethnograpic Approach
Author(s)Williams, Kathleen Clagett
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Grounded in literature on the miseducation of students whose native varieties of English differ most noticeably from the standard academic variety (Delpit 2006; Labov 1972a; Rickford 1999; Smitherman 1999; Wolfram, Adger, and Christian 1999; Wolfram and Schilling-Estes 2006), this dissertation examines the links between the sociolinguistic language awareness of college writing instructors and their discursive interactions with students. Using a case study approach that is at once broadly ethnographic and closely focused on unfolding discourse, the study concentrates on the language awareness of three European American teachers, two of whom teach basic (developmental) writing and one who teaches a more advanced technical writing class.
After determining the three instructors' respective levels of language awareness through analysis of the pejorative or affirmative lexical choices they make when discussing the varieties of English their students speak, this study analyzes the discursive interactions of the two basic writing instructors in one-on-one writing conferences. Focusing on student responses to the instructors' comments on vernacular features in their writing, it also examines the students' levels of engagement through their conversational backchanneling, word repetition, overlapping speech, and proactive commentary on their own writing.
The study finds that:
*One of the two basic writing instructors, who has received no training in language variation, uses far more pejorative language to describe the variety of English most of her students speak (i.e., AAVE) than do the other instructors, both of whom are enrolled in a PhD program that addresses issues of language variation in educational settings.
*While both basic writing instructors engage in highly interactive discussions of general grammar and writing issues with students, only the instructor with more developed sociolinguistic language awareness maintains comparable levels of interaction when discussing language variation per se.
*Even the basic writing instructor with highly developed language awareness lacks the specific linguistic knowledge needed to engage students in interactive discussions of AAVE phonology and morphosyntax.
This study concludes that while general teacher training in language variation leads to more interactive conferences overall, knowledge of the specific linguistic details of students' varieties of English is needed for the most engaging instruction.
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