Conference Paper: Communicating about Communication – Multidisciplinary Approaches to Educating Educators about Language Variation

19 10 2009

Anne H. Charity Hudley
(The College of William and Mary)
Christine Mallinson
(University of Maryland, Baltimore County)

To read this article and its associated commentaries for free just click on the PDF links below.

Charity Hudley & Mallinson PDF

Commentary 1 PDF – Becky Childs (Coastal Carolina University)

Commentary 2 PDF – Kristen Denham (Western Washington University)

Commentary 3 PDF – Sonja LanehartA (University of Texas at San Antonio)

In order to post your comment and response, please use the comments box at the bottom of this post. All comments are moderated and will appear shortly after they are submitted.



The quest to educate non-standardized English-speaking students has been a primary driving force behind developments in many fields represented by Compass journals, including sociology, geography, linguistics, psychology, history, literature, and education. Academics engaged in these multiple perspectives must join together, both to communicate knowledge about language variation to educators and to learn from educators’ experiences with teaching non-standardized English-speaking students.

Following the conference theme of breaking down barriers, we draw on research gathered from multidisciplinary approaches to educational analysis by developing a linguistic awareness model that is designed to facilitate the sharing of knowledge about language variation between educators and researchers. Our model currently addresses three U.S.-based English language varieties: School English, Southern English, and African-American English. Drawing on these models, we highlight best teaching practices that can help non-standardized English-speaking students break down communication barriers to educational success in the pre-collegiate classroom.

We draw on previous endeavors by academics to communicate information about language variation to wider audiences, noting two important challenges: the need to couple language variation awareness with readily accessible, specific examples of language variation and the need to provide information about how to work with language variation within the increasingly diverse classroom. We contend that only with this specific knowledge can educators use linguistic information to help students from non-standardized English-speaking backgrounds achieve in schools. Otherwise, educators may not appreciate the relevance and immediate necessity of the information.

In our linguistic awareness model, we suggest realistic, cost effective ways to approach educators, including certification and re-certification courses, in-service workshops, websites, and wikis. A wiki of materials to accompany this paper may be found at  We also suggest future directions for linguistically aware educators to become resources for information on language variation and linguistic tolerance in their own schools and communities.



2 responses

19 10 2009
Rebecca Wheeler

Many thanks to Charity-Hudley and Mallinson for their fine work in bringing linguistic toolkits to educators (can’t wait to get their forthcoming book).

I offer 3 comments in response to or prompted by the commentators, and then I ask the authors a question:

1) Like commentator Kristin Denham, I wish that Charity-Hudley and Mallinson’s article had offered us more details on the whats and hows of their workshop. I for one, know first hand of the effectiveness of some of their teaching strategies as i was a participant/attendee at their week long summer workshop (just to get the scoop on what’s new in lang. variation in classrooms). They provide an exemplary model, embodying a core element of critical language pedagogy — dialogism (Freire, 1970, as cited in Godley and Minnici, 2008 — Critical Lang. Pedagogy in an Urban High School Engl. Class — _Urban Education_).

In their workshop, Charity-Hudley and Mallinson provided constructs and questions for participants to explore and self-interrogate. The most powerful exercise (in my book) was based on Banks & Banks (2007) model of macro-groups and micro-groups (i’m misremembering the details here i’m sure). In this context, workshop participants realized that each of us participates in many many micro-societies, interlapping and sometimes distinct. Participants got to experience the sting of feeling branded, or not wanting to be branded as in or out of this or that group. Then Charity-Hudley and Mallinson brought it around to language. This was a stunningly effective experience, leading teachers to viscerally feel what it might be like to be seen as part of a minority dialect group.

That’s the kind of detail that would be a great lesson plan to have posted out for all us educators to draw upon.

2) I agree with commentator Becky Childs on the stern consequences of many PhD linguists not having public school experience or training in curriculum design. Even if we CAN figure out how to translate our technical understanding into human being speak (as Reaser and Wolfram (2007) or Sweetland (2006) have so admirably done), getting it packaged in a way that serves as a moment-by-moment lesson plan… well, as Childs observes, the process is daunting, and can grind our outreach efforts to a hault.

Personally, my partnership with elementary teacher Rachel Swords has been absolutely criterial in being able to make sense to teachers (Wheeler & Swords, 2006). We’ve taken the next step and are placing our work with a publisher of curricula – Heinemann in the FirstHand Curriculum Series (Wheeler & Swords in press). In this way, the publisher is supplying the curriculum designer, a piece of the puzzle I know I don’t have myself.

3) Like Lanehart, I also appreciate Charity-Hudley and Mallinson’s “seven standardized English privileges,” – here (issues of spoken vs. written notwithstanding), they are truly helping make the unseen seen…. Very powerful.

**Question**: Charity Hudley and Mallinson talk about “developing a linguistic awareness model that is designed to facilitate the sharing of knowledge about language variation between educators and researchers.” So,

a) how does your ‘linguistic awareness model’ differ from say, Reaser and Wolfram (2007)?

b) Once you have shared info about language variation with educators, how to you envision it being applied tangibly in the K-12 classroom? (surely Labov’s Reading Road reading instruction is one crucial application. What are others you’re suggesting)?


Rebecca Wheeler

22 10 2009
Christine Mallinson

Hi Rebecca,

Thanks so much for your comment, and thanks very much also to the respondents on our conference paper.

As Rebecca noted, a unique feature of our language awareness model is that we proceed from the powerful framework of multicultural education, through which we are able to discuss with educators how language connects to broader society and culture. Particularly useful are Banks’ and Banks’ discussions of the dimensions of multicultural education and of microcultures and macrocultures. The citation for the Banks and Banks reader is: Banks, James, and Cherry Banks, eds. 2009. Multicultural Education: Issues and Perspectives (7th edition). Columbia: Teachers College Press.

As we have followed up with educators who attended our 2008 Summer Workshop on Language Variation at VCU, we have been very excited to see the tangible projects that the educators are taking back with them to their classrooms. Among the projects that the educators have designed are: 1- An investigation into the linguistic aspects of a test for assessing kindergartners, 2- A short film on language variation to be shared with other language arts colleagues, and 3- A presentation for administrators on how to assess Deaf/Hard of Hearing students. We look forward to staying in touch with these educators as they continue to develop and disseminate their projects in their local schools and communities.

& Anne

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