The effects of dialect awareness instruction on nonmainstream American English speakers

ArticleinReading and Writing 30(8) · June 2017with 154 Reads 
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Abstract
The achievement gaps between poor and more affluent students are persistent and chronic, as many students living in poverty are also members of more isolated communities where dialects such as African American English and Southern Vernacular English are often spoken. Non-mainstream dialect use is associated with weaker literacy achievement. The principal aims of the two experiments described in this paper were to examine whether second through fourth graders, who use home English in contexts where more formal school English is expected, can be taught to dialect shift between home and school English depending on context; and whether this leads to stronger writing and literacy outcomes. The results of two randomized controlled trials with students within classrooms randomly assigned to DAWS (Dialect Awareness, a program to explicitly teach dialect shifting), editing instruction, or a business as usual group revealed (1) that DAWS was more effective in promoting dialect shifting than instruction that did not explicitly contrast home and school English; and (2) that students in both studies who participated in DAWS were significantly more likely to use school English in contexts where it was expected on proximal and distal outcomes including narrative writing, morphosyntactic awareness, and reading comprehension. Implications for theory and practice are discussed.

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  • ... While awareness of appropriate dialect usage can be seen as an indicator for general metalinguistic knowledge, which is known to be beneficial for acquisition of phonological decoding skills, there is also evidence that directly boosting learners' dialect awareness can help literacy learning. For example, Johnson, Terry, Connor, and Thomas-Tate (2017) demonstrated that an intervention that involved explicit teaching of dialect awareness to primary school-children exposed to both NMAE and MAE resulted not only in more flexible and appropriate use of NMAE but also in better MAE literacy skills. Future research will have to investigate to what extent explicit awareness of contrastive words is required for a dialect benefit to occur during literacy learning. ...
    Article
    Full-text available
    Correlational studies have demonstrated detrimental effects of exposure to a mismatch between a nonstandard dialect at home and a mainstream variety at school on children's literacy skills. However, dialect exposure often is confounded with reduced home literacy, negative teacher expectation, and more limited educational opportunities. To provide proof of concept for a possible causal relationship between variety mismatch and literacy skills, we taught adult learners to read and spell an artificial language with or without dialect variants using an artificial orthography. In 3 experiments, we confirmed earlier findings that reading is more error-prone for contrastive words; that is, words for which different variants exist in the input, especially when learners also acquire the joint meanings of these competing variants. Despite this contrastive deficit, no detriment from variety mismatch emerged for reading and spelling of untrained words, a task equivalent to nonword reading tests routinely administered to young schoolchildren. With longer training, we even found a benefit from variety mismatch on reading and spelling of untrained words. We suggest that such a dialect benefit in literacy learning can arise when competition between different variants leads learners to favor phonologically mediated decoding. Our findings should help to assuage educators' concerns about detrimental effects of linguistic diversity. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2020 APA, all rights reserved).
  • ... Few researchers explicitly describe participants' dialect use and instead provide general descriptive measures, such as race, ethnicity, or language status (e.g., monolingual, bilingual). Of the studies on culturally relevant instructional practices that have reported student's dialect status, the majority of studies have included typically developing students (e.g., Bell & Clark, 1998;Johnson, Terry, Connor, & Thomas-Tate, 2017), as opposed to those with diagnosed speech/language disorders (e.g., Patterson, 2005). Given that there is limited research on best practices for speech/language interventions for students with communication disorders who speak NMAE dialects, we draw on research on general education practices for students from minority backgrounds. ...
    Article
    Speech-Language Pathologists (SLPs) working with students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are encouraged to be "familiar with nondiscriminatory testing and dynamic assessment procedures" (ASHA, 2003). Little is known, however, about the extent to which SLPs implement these methods into their clinical practice. The current study explores the assessment and intervention practices used by SLPs in two states in the US for students who speak African American English (AAE), including the types and frequency of clinical practices. 247 SLPs completed an online survey regarding clinical practices for students who speak AAE as well as a questionnaire regarding their knowledge of the linguistic features of AAE. Half of SLPs reported using modified or alternative assessment practices the majority of the time or some of the time for students who speak AAE; however, SLPs reported using modified or alternative treatment practices less often. Modified scoring of standardized assessments and selecting different intervention strategies were the most commonly reported clinical practices. Knowledge of linguistic features of AAE was a significant predictor of the frequency with which SLPs report implementing modified or alternative assessment and intervention practices and SLPs with the highest levels of knowledge of AAE utilize different clinical practices than those with lower levels of knowledge of AAE. Additional information is needed about the most effective clinical practices for students who speak AAE and the barriers SLPs face to implementing nondiscriminatory clinical practices.
  • ... In rural and remote schools with limited experience with diversity, teachers can experience considerable challenges dealing with a more diverse student population. A recent OECD report finds that countries have employed a range of strategies to address teachers' professional isolation in rural and remote schools and provide high-quality professional development opportunities at a reasonable cost (OECD, 2018 [49]; Halsey, 2017 [204]). These include cascade teaching (training a group of teachers to coach their colleagues in a particular skill), mobile facilitators, induction and mentoring, and the use of local resource and support centres. ...
  • ... While awareness of appropriate dialect usage can be seen as an indicator for general metalinguistic knowledge, which is known to be beneficial for acquisition of phonological decoding skills, there is also evidence that directly boosting learners' dialect awareness can help literacy learning. For example, Johnson, Terry, Connor, and Thomas-Tate (2017) demonstrated that an intervention that involved explicit teaching of dialect awareness to primary school-children exposed to both NMAE and MAE resulted not only in more flexible and appropriate use of NMAE but also in better MAE literacy skills. Future research will have to investigate to what extent explicit awareness of contrastive words is required for a dialect benefit to occur during literacy learning. ...
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    Full-text available
    Correlational studies have demonstrated detrimental effects of exposure to a mismatch between a non-standard dialect at home and a mainstream variety at school on children’s literacy skills. However, dialect exposure often is confounded with reduced home literacy, negative teacher expectation and more limited educational opportunities. To examine whether there is a causal relationship between variety mismatch and literacy skills, we taught adult learners to read and spell an artificial language with and without dialect variants using an artificial orthography. In three experiments, we confirm earlier findings that reading is more error-prone for contrastive words, i.e. words for which different variants were present in the input, especially when learners also acquire the joint meanings of competing variants. Despite this contrastive deficit, no detriment from variety mismatch emerged for reading and spelling of untrained words, a task equivalent to non-word reading tests routinely administered to young school children. When training was extended, we even found a benefit from variety mismatch on reading and spelling of untrained words. We suggest that such a dialect benefit in literacy learning can arise when competition between different variants leads learners to direct their attention towards phonologically mediated decoding strategies. Our findings should encourage educators to harness the benefits that can arise from linguistic diversity.
  • ... In a more recent but preliminary review of experimental articles published between 2014 and 2017 where 30% of the participants were African American, two focused on speech acts (DeJarnette, Kersting et al., 2015), one focused on expository discourse (Koonce, 2015), two on code switching/shifting (Johnson, Patton Terry, McDonald Conner, & Thomas-Tate, 2017;Williams-Farrier, 2017), and eight on ToM (Cavadel & Frye, 2017;Cowell, Samek, List, & Decety, 2015;Curenton, 2015;Espelage, Hong, Kim, & Nan, 2018;Gonzales, Fabricius, & Kupfer, 2017;Mills & Fox, 2016;Seidenfeld, 2014;Tompkins, 2015). It is notable that, over the last two to three decades, there has been increased focus on the contribution of conversational and narrative discourse to literacy development and achievement in African American children and adolescents. ...
    Article
    Purpose The purpose of this article is to explain pragmatics from the cultural perspective of African American English speakers by reviewing current research and providing examples of a variety of pragmatic and social communication forms. Understanding pragmatics and social communication from a cultural perspective is necessary when supporting language and literacy development. Conclusions Speakers of African American English use a variety of culturally specific forms of pragmatics and social communication, such as those identified in the cultural framework developed by the authors. However, limited research on this topic is available in the extant literature. Thus, Hyter, DeJarnette, and Rivers provide the model for an emic or culturally specific approach to identify the pragmatic and social communication skills of African American English speakers. It is imperative that speech-language professionals and educators utilize an emic approach to these pragmatic and social communication forms to support language and literacy development, as well as to devise appropriate and effective language and literacy assessment and intervention when needed.
  • ... In contrast to bilingual children, most studies of code-switching in AAE-speaking children focus on why African American children do not code-switch rather than why they do, suggesting once again need for a more strength-based perspective. In fact, code-switching interventions typically focus on encouraging African American children to switch from the use of their home language, AAE, to the use of the school standard, MAE (Craig, Kolenic, & Hensel, 2014;Johnson et al., 2017;Wheeler, 2010Wheeler, , 2008Wheeler & Swords, 2004). Such recommendations could lead to discouragement of the use of the student's home dialect, which could have unforeseen consequences on communicative confidence and language learning, rather than simply encouraging MAE dialect use, as intended. ...
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    This article examines the language and cognitive skills of bidialectal and bilingual children, focusing on African American English bidialectal speakers and Spanish-English bilingual speakers. It contributes to the discussion by considering two themes in the extant literature: (1) linguistic and cognitive strengths can be found in speaking two languages or dialects, and (2) advantages accrue when considering the groups together (or at least side-by-side) rather than separately. A strengths-based framework is proposed, whereby the goal is to identify the linguistic and cognitive strengths of these two groups that might support assessment, intervention, and culturally appropriate characterization of key language and cognitive skills. Morphosyntax, complex syntax, and narrative discourse are explored for both groups. In addition, executive function and code-switching are discussed because they relate to language and cognitive development of both bidialectal and bilingual speakers. Although some differences between the two groups are obvious, the possible similarities or intersection between the two language groups is potentially informative and may provide direction for researchers and clinicians alike.
  • ... Similarly, many African American children are fluent emerging or fluent bidialectals who speak a dialect (African American English [AAE]) that differs significantly from what they encounter in mainstream or Standard American English (SAE)-speaking schools and texts. Thus, researchers and professional educators often hypothesize that children in these groups experience interference that negatively impacts their reading and writing ability (Johnson, Terry, Connor, & Thomas-Tate, 2017;Labov, 1995;Siegel, 1999). That is, children may use features from their native language or dialect in contexts that presuppose use of their second language or dialect when reading a passage orally or composing a text. ...
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    Trends and Prospects in Metacognition Research Anastasia Efklides and Plousia Misailidi, editors The mechanisms of metacognition-our knowledge of how we know-have yet to be fully explained, and its development in childhood has yet to be fully understood. Taking as its starting point the discussion about the roots of conscious and unconscious awareness, Trends and Prospects in Metacognition Research clarifies these processes-along with many others-in a stimulating attempt to unite disparate areas of research and theory. The book illuminates both familiar and less frequently studied metacognitive phenomena, bringing new methodologies and fresh challenges to long-held ideas about self-regulation and control, distinctions between cognition and metacognition, the social contexts of children's learning and metacognition, and the trainability of metacognitive skills. In keeping with its integrative approach, basic and applied research are given equal emphasis as chapters examine research trends most likely to impact the future of the field, including the following: Metacognition in non-human species. Tip-of-the-tongue and blank-in-the-mind states. Fringe consciousness. Metamemory deficits in schizophrenia. Metacognition, uncertainty, and confidence among young children. Teachers' use of metacognition in the classroom. Metacognitive knowledge of decision making. Trends and Prospects in Metacognition Research offers researchers in psychology, education, and cognitive science vital new perspectives and insights into their work, with a keen eye toward the future of their rapidly evolving field. © Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010. All rights reserved.
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    Many African American students produce African American English (AAE) features that are contrastive to Standard American English (SAE). The AAE-speaking child who is able to dialect shift, that is, to speak SAE across literacy contexts, likely will perform better academically than the student who is not able to dialect shift. This investigation examined the AAE productions of 50 typically developing African American third graders across three language contexts-picture description, oral reading of SAE text, and writing. All participants produced AAE during picture description. A downward shift in contrastive AAE features was evident between spoken discourse and the literacy contexts. More students produced more AAE features during picture description than writing. Both morphosyntactic and phonological features characterized the picture description context. Phonological features predominated during oral reading. In contrast, morphosyntactic features were the most dominant feature in writing. The findings are discussed in terms of dialect-shifting abilities of African American students and the role of writing as a special context to support their entry into dialect shifting.
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    This study examined whether child speakers of Southern African American English (SAAE) and Southern White English (SWE) who were also perceived by some listeners to present a Cajun/Creole English (CE) influence within their dialects produced elevated rates of 6 phonological and 5 morphological patterns of vernacular relative to other SAAE- and SWE-speaking children. A group comparison design was followed. The data were listener judgments, 1-min audiotaped excerpts of conversational speech, and transcribed language samples from 93 children (31 classified as specifically language impaired while the others were classified as either aged-matched or language-matched controls; 13 classified as SWE with CE, 40 classified as SWE only, 18 classified as SAAE with CE, and 22 classified as SAAE only). Results indicated that children with a CE influence produced elevated rates of vernacular phonology relative to the others, with 2 patterns (nonaspirated stops and glide reduction) showing statistically significant group differences. In contrast, the children's use of vernacular morphology was unrelated to their CE status, but was instead related to their primary dialect (SWE vs. SAAE) and language ability classification (impaired vs. normal). The findings highlight the role of phonology in listeners' perceptions of dialect variation within 2 nonmainstream dialects (SWE and SAAE). The findings also demonstrate the ways phonological and morphological forms of vernacular can be independently influenced by different types of child variables.
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    This study examined the relation between African American preschoolers' use of African American English (AAE) and their language and emergent literacy skills in an effort to better understand the perplexing and persistent difficulties many African American children experience learning to read proficiently. African American preschoolers' (n = 63) vocabulary skills were assessed in the fall and their language and emergent literacy skills were assessed in the spring. The relation between students' AAE use and their vocabulary and emergent literacy skills was examined using hierarchical linear modeling (HLM), controlling for fall vocabulary and other child, family, and school variables. Children's use of AAE was examined across two contexts-sentence imitation and oral narrative using a wordless storybook prompt. There was a significant -shaped relation between the frequency with which preschoolers used AAE features and their language and emergent literacy skills. Students who used AAE features with greater or lesser frequency demonstrated stronger sentence imitation, letter-word recognition, and phonological awareness skills than did preschoolers who used AAE features with moderate frequency, controlling for fall vocabulary skills. Fewer preschoolers used AAE features during the sentence imitation task with explicit expectations for Standard American English (SAE) or School English than they did during an oral narrative elicitation task with implicit expectations for SAE. The nonlinear relation between AAE use and language and emergent literacy skills, coupled with systematic differences in AAE use across contexts, indicates that some preschoolers may be dialect switching between AAE and SAE, suggesting emerging pragmatic/metalinguistic awareness.
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    Using 6 longitudinal data sets, the authors estimate links between three key elements of school readiness--school-entry academic, attention, and socioemotional skills--and later school reading and math achievement. In an effort to isolate the effects of these school-entry skills, the authors ensured that most of their regression models control for cognitive, attention, and socioemotional skills measured prior to school entry, as well as a host of family background measures. Across all 6 studies, the strongest predictors of later achievement are school-entry math, reading, and attention skills. A meta-analysis of the results shows that early math skills have the greatest predictive power, followed by reading and then attention skills. By contrast, measures of socioemotional behaviors, including internalizing and externalizing problems and social skills, were generally insignificant predictors of later academic performance, even among children with relatively high levels of problem behavior. Patterns of association were similar for boys and girls and for children from high and low socioeconomic backgrounds.