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From Theory to Practice
In the essay Mother Tongue, Amy Tan explains that she began to write stories using all the Englishes I grew up with. How these different Englishes or even a language other than English contribute to identity is a crucial issue for adolescents.
In this lesson, students explore this issue by brainstorming the different languages they use in speaking and writing, and when and where these languages are appropriate. They write in their journals about a time when someone made an assumption about them based on their use of language, and share their writing with the class. Students then read and discuss Amy Tan's essay Mother Tongue. Finally, they write a literacy narrative describing two different languages they use and when and where they use these languages.
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Discussion Questions for "Mother Tongue": Have students discuss Amy Tan's essay in small groups, using these discussion questions.
Literacy Narrative Assignment: This handout describes an assignment in which students write a literacy narrative exploring their use of different language in different settings.
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FROM THEORY TO PRACTICE
NCTE has long held a commitment to the importance of individual student's language choices. In the 1974 Resolution on the Students' Right to Their Own Language, council members "affirm[ed] the students' right to their own language-to the dialect that expresses their family and community identity, the idiolect that expresses their unique personal identity." The Council reaffirmed this resolution in 2003, "because issues of language variation and education continue to be of major concern in the twenty-first century to educators, educational policymakers, students, parents, and the general public."
Rebecca Wheeler and Rachel Swords assert that: "the child who speaks in a vernacular dialect is not making language errors; instead, she or he is speaking correctly in the language of the home discourse community. Teachers can draw upon the language strengths of urban learners to help students codeswitch-choose the language variety appropriate to the time, place, audience, and communicative purpose. In doing so, we honor linguistic and cultural diversity, all the while fostering students' mastery of the Language of Wider Communication, the de-facto lingua franca of the U.S."
This lesson focuses on ways to investigate the issues of language and identity in the classroom in ways that validate the many languages that students use. To help students gain competence in their ability to choose the right language usage for each situation, explorations of language and identity in the classroom are vital in raising students' awareness of the languages they use and the importance of the decisions that they make as they communicate with others.
Wheeler, Rebecca and Rachel Swords. "Codeswitching: Tools of Language and Culture Transform the Dialectally Diverse Classroom." Language Arts 81.6 (July 2004): 470-480.
Delpit, Lisa, and Joanne Kilgour Dowdy. 2002. The Skin that We Speak: Thoughts on Language and Culture in the Classroom. New York: New Press.
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