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Descriptive vs. Prescriptive Language Instruction created by Emilia Sens.

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1 Descriptive vs. Prescriptive Language Instruction created by Emilia Sens

2 Objectives Identify the differences between a prescriptive approach toward language and a descriptive approach Understand how descriptive teaching better suits students’ language development and learning Gain tools and methods to use a descriptive approach in tutoring

3 Prescriptive Teaching Definition- Teaching with the assumption that there is a "correct" way to express language Standard, "grammatically correct", or formal English, is the only acceptable version of language

4 Prescriptive Teaching Cont'd Other dialect variations of English are discouraged and unacceptable, students are corrected every time they use dialect different from Standard English Other variations include: AAVE(African American Vernacular English), Appalachian Dialect, Southern Dialect

5 Descriptive Teaching Teaching with the assumption that no language dialect is better than another Other dialects are acceptable in discussion and instruction While they are acceptable, teachers instruct their students about the differences between dialects and the need to code-switch

6 Descriptive Teaching Cont'd Language difference is distinct from deficiency The goal is to teach students bidialectalism:to have full control of both dialects

7 Why is Descriptive more effective? 1. Students feel comfortable in school environments Over-correcting does not lead to learning Rather, students become confused, and afraid to ask questions or speak up

8 Comfort and Confidence With prescriptive teaching, students perceive that their instructor thinks they are less intelligent because of their dialect, and therefore have less incentive to participate in structured school activities or lessons

9 Important Terms Dialect: o A regional variety of language distinguished by vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation from other regional varieties and constituting with them a single language Standard English: o The English that with respect to spelling, grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary is substantially uniform through not devoid of regional differences, that is well established by usage in the formal and informal speech and writing of the education, and that is widely recognized as acceptable wherever English is spoken and understood

10 What Linguistics Teaches Us about Language Difference Language difference is not the same as language deficiency Every dialect follows rules that predictably structure language use and meaning The use of one dialect over another is not a marker of intelligence or ability to use language effectively

11 Code-Switching While no dialect is more correct than the other, certain situations call for different dialect variations For instance: A formal presentation on research findings may require formal English (often Standard English) A toast given at a best friend’s birthday party might be best in more informal English Students should understand the difference between the dialects, and when it is appropriate to use them.

12 Conflicted 2. Students do not feel conflicted or caught Are they supposed to disregard their family’s language use? Language is a part of our identities

13 Honoring Linguistic/Cultural Diversity cont'd Descriptive teaching allows students to keep the language they bring with them, while learning standard English at the same time Students do not feel like they need to completely abandon their language at home

14 Contrastive Analysis There are patterns to linguistic variety in speech, and it is important to incorporate different dialects into instruction breaks the cycle of thinking of dialects as "sloppy English" or "incorrect speech" Students do not see dialect variation as "incorrect", but non Standard


16 Honoring Linguistic Diversity There are ethical reason to value linguistic diversity, but also pragmatic ones. Standard English is no more "correct" than any other dialect, and therefore teaching that way is highly problematic

17 How are we going to implement these ideas? Understanding contrastive analysis Tutoring students explicitly on how to vary their language use based on setting and audience Setting high expectations

18 It is important for students to realize the difference between standard/non standard English. Rather than correct, phrase responses in positive ways The point is not to ignore language differences, but embrace them as different rather than wrong

19 Examples of positive alternatives to over correcting "Can you think of another way of saying that?" "Can you tell me if that is informal or formal language?” “How would you say (write) this in this setting? How about this one?”

20 It is important to remind them of formal/informal language, but remember that just because it is different does not mean it is wrong Pay more attention to the content of speech rather than how language is expressed.

21 Sources on Language Variation and Teaching Wheeler, Rebecca, and Rachel Swords. 2004. "Codeswitching: Tools of language and culture transform the dialectally diverse classroom." Language Arts81 (6):470-480. Labov, William. 1972. Academic ignorance and Black intelligence. The Atlantic Monthly – June 1972. Smitherman, Geneva. 1974. "Soul'n style." The English Journal 63 (3):14-15. Sledd, James. 1969. "Bi-dialectalism: The linguistics of white supremacy." English Journal 58 (9):1307-1315, 1329. Enhancing Bidialectalism in Urban African American Students Kelli Harris-Wright The Ebonics controversy in my backyard:A sociolinguist's experiences and reflections

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