African American Vernacular English in Freshman Composition and the Social Construction of Teacher Response

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Title: African American Vernacular English in Freshman Composition and the Social Construction of Teacher Response
Author: Matarese, Maureen Teresa
Advisors: Walt Wolfram, Committee Chair
Chris M. Anson, Committee Co-Chair
David Herman, Committee Member
Abstract: Dating from the early 1960's, plentiful scholarship has identified, codified, and analyzed features of African American Vernacular English (AAVE) in the written discourse of students at various educational levels (Wolfram, 1969, 1999; Smitherman 1981; Labov 1972, 1998). Although often ideologically neutral, this scholarship has occasionally sparked heated debates, among linguists and pedagogues alike, about the appropriate educational methods for teaching African American students who bring into their classrooms varieties of English that are popularly thought to deviate from the norms of academic or "standard" English. Moreover, while a growing body of research exists on teacher response to student writing (Anson, 1988) and more recently to the cultural dimensions of response (Cooper and Odell, 1999; Anson, 1999) and the social construction of error in teacher response (Anson 2001), scholarship on teachers' responses to specific, nonstandard linguistic variables in texts is sparse. This study combines a sociolinguistic analysis of AAVE-speaking students' texts with an examination of the nature and underlying ideological origins of specific teacher comments with respect to those features. This thesis analyzes teachers' written responses to AAVE features; including consonant cluster reduction, copula absence, possessive marking, and third person singular –s absence in college students' writing. This analysis of teachers' responses to AAVE in writing allows me to make observations about the ways in which teachers create socially constructed personas for students based on their vernacular dialect features. The results of this study demonstrate that spoken language strongly influences written, although instances of specific vernacular dialect use are highly localized depending on the student, and the range of dialect use varies from one instance of one feature to multiple instances of multiple features. Although the occurrence of AAVE in these essays is sporadic, the teachers' responses to these features illustrate a potential pattern in teacher response technique. Most often, teachers use imperative statements and strikethroughs to correct language in student rough drafts. An initial analysis of this commenting shows that it may not be helpful to students in revising their essays, as most often, the AAVE feature persists in other papers and final drafts that have been "corrected" by the teacher. The thesis concludes with a discussion of further programs of research and implications for educational reform, teacher development, and enhancement in the area of writing and language instruction in multicultural and multidialectal settings. Appendix II provides some potential classroom exercises and approaches that are inspired by the research in the body of this thesis.
Date: 2002-07-29
Degree: MA
Discipline: English

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