Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Code Switching

I had the second session of my professional learning group on grammar today. Our assignment was to read the first three chapters of Catching Up on Conventions: Grammar Lessons for Middle School Writers by Chantal Francois and Elisa Zonana. This section of the book describes how they, two teachers committed to writing workshop, came to the conclusion that teaching grammar is important. Their main reason had to do with the fact that their classes were predominantly made up of ethnic minority students and they felt that it was necessary for them to master academic English, which is the language of power.

Our group talked a lot about this code switching. The reasons the authors described resonated with one of the other white teachers because she felt they applied to many of her students. For the teachers from our north county schools such an argument was irrelevant-- over 90 percent of their students speak the dominant language at home; they don't need to learn another vernacular. As for me, I thought it was hypocritical to make an argument like theirs without acknowledging that such an attitude perpetuates an unfair dynamic. To dismiss the necessity for some people to have to learn the language of the majority as simply a necessary evil does not address the underlying issues.

(Don't worry-- I'm not against teaching conventions-- I just think we should teach them to everybody, in the context of their writing, based on the individual needs of those particular students.)

The other teacher from my school, who is Black, affirmed the importance for people of color to learn to speak and write academic English but also pointed out the social complications that accompany such a choice. "It's sad to say," she told us, "but kids and even adults make fun of Black people who talk too White."

We also discussed proofreading marks, and one of the teachers confessed that she just never got the hang of using them: there were too many and she found the marks confusing. "It's just code switching," I teased, but when later the conversation turned to texting language, we discovered that of all the teachers there, I was the only one who doesn't use it, thanks to my trusty iPhone and perhaps my own resistance to code switching. In my experience, though, this is the exchange that is most difficult for students. Once they get hooked on shortening words and phrases and ignoring capitalization and punctuation, it is very difficult to get them to switch to standard conventions for school writing.

Maybe text talk is a minority dialect; it is a language that belongs to the young. The difference between that group and most ethnic minorities? One day young people will be in charge. r u rdy 4 dat?

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