Critical Language Pedagogy

Interrogating Language, Dialects, and Power in Teacher Education

by Amanda J. Godley (Author) Jeffrey Reaser (Author)
©2018 Textbook XXVI, 174 Pages


Critical Language Pedagogy: Interrogating Language, Dialects, and Power in Teacher Education demonstrates how critical approaches to language and dialects are an essential part of social justice work in literacy education. The text details the largest and most comprehensive study ever conducted on teachers’ language beliefs and learning about dialects, power, and identity. It describes the experiences of over 300 pre- and in-service teachers from across the United States who participated in a course on how to enact Critical Language Pedagogy in their English classrooms.
Through detailed analyses and descriptions, the authors demonstrate how the course changed teachers’ beliefs about language, literacy, and their students. The book also presents information about the effectiveness of the mini-course, variations in the responses of teachers from different regions of the United States, and the varying language beliefs of teachers of color and White teachers. The authors present the entire mini-course so that readers can incorporate it into their own classes, making the book practical as well as informative for teachers, teacher educators, and educational researchers.
Critical Language Pedagogy: Interrogating Language, Dialects, and Power in Teacher Education provides a much-needed theoretical explanation of Critical Language Pedagogy and, just as importantly, a detailed description of teacher learning and a Critical Language Pedagogy curriculum that readers can use in K-12, college, and teacher education classrooms.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Critical Language Pedagogy
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Tables
  • Foreword: Moving beyond Uncritical, Conformist, and Assimilationist Models of Language Pedagogy
  • References
  • Acknowledgments
  • List of Abbreviations
  • Chapter 1: Introduction
  • Linguistic and Sociolinguistic Research on Dialects
  • The Racial, Cultural and Linguistic Landscape of U.S. Schools
  • Dialects and Language Ideologies in Schools
  • Instruction on Dialect Diversity
  • Code-Switching and Contrastive Analysis
  • Code-Meshing and Identity
  • Socio-Historical Approaches
  • Critical Language Pedagogy
  • Overview of the Following Chapters
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 2: The Critical Language Pedagogy Curriculum
  • The Design of the Critical Language Pedagogy Mini-Course
  • Content Knowledge
  • Pedagogical Content Knowledge
  • Challenging Current Beliefs
  • Mini-Course Topics
  • The Complete Curriculum
  • Introduction to the Mini-Course
  • Module 1: Teaching about Dialects in Literature
  • Introduction to Module 1
  • CCSS Addressed
  • Opening Scenario
  • Readings and Assignments
  • Day 1
  • Day 2
  • Module 2: Addressing Vernacular Dialects in Student Writing and Talk
  • Introduction to Module 2
  • CCSS Addressed
  • Opening Scenario
  • Readings and Assignments
  • Day 1
  • Day 2
  • Reading 1: Talking about Language Variation with Your Students
  • Reading 2: Discovering Dialect Patterns: A Special Use of BE in African American English
  • Reading 3: Errors in Student Writing
  • Module 3: Students’ Investigations of Identity and Variation in Their Own Language
  • Introduction to Module 3
  • CCSS Addressed
  • Opening Scenario
  • Readings and Assignments
  • Day 1
  • Day 2
  • Reading 1: Language Variation and Identity
  • Reading 2: Code-Switching and Code-Meshing
  • Module 4: Responding to Linguistic Discrimination
  • Introduction to Module 4
  • CCSS Addressed
  • Opening Scenario
  • Readings and Assignments
  • Day 1
  • Day 2
  • Module 4 Activity
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter 3: Study Design
  • Timeline, Settings, and Participants
  • Data Collection
  • Questionnaires
  • Pre-Questionnaire Overview
  • Language Variation Pre-Questionnaire (2014 Version)
  • Pre-Questionnaire: New Teaching Scenario Items (2015–2016 Version)
  • Post-Questionnaires
  • Online Discussion
  • Data Analysis
  • Questionnaires
  • Online Discussion Boards
  • References
  • Chapter 4: Teachers’ Learning about Dialects, Instruction, Power, and Privilege
  • Participants, Dataset, and Analysis
  • Overview of Preservice Teachers’ Learning
  • Participants’ Sociolinguistic Content Knowledge
  • Participants’ Pedagogical Content Knowledge
  • White Privilege and White Talk
  • Different Learning Trajectories: Austin, Octavia, Jamie, and Nile
  • Austin
  • Octavia
  • Jamie
  • Nile
  • Developing Critical Language Pedagogy
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter 5: Racial and Regional Differences in How Preservice Teachers Respond to Critical Language Pedagogy
  • Teachers of Color
  • Questionnaire Responses: Hypothetical Teaching Scenario
  • Discussion Board Posts
  • Regional Differences
  • Data Sources, Research Sites, and Participants
  • White Talk Discourse Strategies
  • Topic of Post: Ethnic vs. Regional Dialects
  • Topic of Post: Authentic vs. Literary Dialect
  • Preservice Teachers’ Personal and Professional Identity
  • Analysis of White Talk
  • Preservice Teachers’ Use of White Talk Discourse Strategies
  • Preservice Teachers’ Discussions of Ethnic and Regional Dialects
  • Preservice Teachers’ Discussions of Authentic and Literary Dialects
  • Identity Analysis
  • Maintenance of Linguistic Privilege
  • (Not) Complicating Linguistic Privilege
  • Mimicry as Pedagogical Tool
  • Mimicry as Offensive
  • Views on Regional Stigmatization
  • Regional Pride
  • Tensions Between Language and School
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter 6: Conclusions and Recommendations
  • Participant Opinions on the Course
  • What Students Learned from the Course
  • Suggestions for Instructors
  • Implications for Research
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Index
  • Series index

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Table 2.1: Overview of the Language Variation in ELA Classrooms Mini-Course

Table 3.1: Settings and Participants

Table 4.1: Summary of Preservice Teachers’ Sociolinguistic Content Knowledge

Table 4.2: Summary of Preservice Teachers’ Pedagogical Content Knowledge

Table 5.1: Summary of Online Discussions by Site

Table 5.2: Cross Regional Comparison of White Talk Discourse Strategies

Table 5.3: Cross Regional Comparison of Discourse Strategies for Challenging White Power

Table 5.4: Cross Regional Comparison of Regional Dialect Naming

Table 6.1: Summary of Usefulness of Design Elements of the Mini-Course

Table 6.2: Most Important Ideas Learned from Mini-Course

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Moving beyond Uncritical, Conformist, and Assimilationist Models of Language Pedagogy

Twenty years ago, I walked into a classroom in Southwest Philly to teach at Turner Middle School. For those of you who know Philly, that’s way down there on the green line near 59th and Baltimore. I was bright-eyed and bushy-tailed (as White folks say) and I was eager to meet all the other teachers at the school. Upon eagerly presenting my new curricular and pedagogical ideas to my new colleagues, I was told, flatly and assuredly, “Oh, you’re not gonna get these kids to write,” and “some of these kids can’t hardly spell their own names!” Turner’s student body at the time was 99.4% Black (don’t ask me what the other 0.6% was!), with a majority Black teaching force. This was back in 1997 in the immediate aftermath of one of the most heated language educational debates in recent history, “The Oakland Ebonics Controversy.” In short, the Oakland Unified School District had proposed using the language patterns of their African American students as resources in teaching them “standard” English—and for a whole host of complicated reasons dealing with racism, classism, and widespread societal ignorance about language and education, all hell broke loose.

In my senior thesis that same year, I asked with all earnestness: “Is it not time to begin developing pedagogies that provide new and innovative approaches to stimulate and motivate our students to mobilize towards ← xiii | xiv → educational excellence? How can we begin using pedagogical approaches that value and preserve the many languages and cultures Americans bring to school?” As a Hip Hop head—bumpin Wu-Tang Forever all day everyday—I advocated passionately for the use of Hip Hop language and culture in the classroom. One of the lasting legacies of Hip Hop culture, of course, has been to decenter Whiteness, to disrupt White cultural and linguistic hegemony—to make White people, even if for a moment or in one singular domain, feel awkward in their own skin. Hip Hop, like Toni Morrison, refused, rejected, and returned the “White gaze.” See, in nearly every other social, political, economic and educational domain, White people demand that everyone else speaks like them in order to gain access to a world of privileges. And since this point is often difficult for White Americans to grasp, consider this: How many White speakers, for example, would be able to pass the test of sounding “authentically” Black? Chances are that most would sound like straight-up posers unless they grew up in Black communities and/or have intimate Black friendship networks. There is little, if any, chance that a White person can “let go” of all of the linguistic markers of his or her Whiteness. And even less chance of successfully getting a job or housing or a small business loan, for example, if achieving any of these depended on their mastery of Black linguistic norms.

At that same time, I became acquainted with some of the paradigm-shifting ideas that also form a pedagogical basis for the book you’re holding in your hands right now: Carol Lee’s signifying as a scaffold (1993), Gloria Ladson-Billings’ culturally relevant pedagogy (1995), and of course, Geneva Smitherman’s revolutionary conceptualization of Black Language in America (1977). Like Godley and Reaser, I joined the call for educators to build upon the cultural-linguistic practices of our students for academic success in the language arts classroom and beyond. In using Hip Hop pedagogies to teach and learn from 5th and 6th graders at Turner, I came to view Hip Hop Culture (i.e., the latest manifestation of African American expressive cultures) not just as a “bridge” for academic success, but as a complex and creative culture that had the potential to transform the schooling and life experiences of many of our students. As it turned out, “these kids” could not only write, but they could write their asses off!

Ten years after those early days in Philly, I would find myself teaching high school in a small city in the San Francisco Bay Area, all the way across the country, in that neighborhood “over the ramp.” Despite what I had learned from my professors about Black Language’s grammatical complexity, the ← xiv | xv → language of the Black child was consistently viewed as something to eradicate, even by the most well-meaning of teachers. In fact, I met many teachers that were genuine about their commitment to seeing all of their students succeed. These same teachers were often disheartened when their students didn’t do well, even after hours of drilling on so-called standard English grammar.

Most of these teachers were unaware of how their attitudes and approaches to Black Language not only didn’t challenge White cultural-linguistic hegemony, but upheld it! Teachers often framed their students’ language as something they combat. They also often went beyond “correcting” their grammar; some even “corrected” their students’ tone. Black students and their ways of speaking were often described with adjectives like “abrasive” and “disrespectful.” All the while, I noticed that while teachers were quick to point out their students’ failure to speak so-called standard English, they almost uniformly failed to realize that their own speech varieties were not exactly what one would call “standard.” Further, being untrained in Black Language’s complexity, teachers often failed to hear fine linguistic distinctions in their students’ language, or comprehend the multiple styles they expressed as they moved through their social worlds.

Somehow, despite linguists’ claims of Black Language’s systematicity over the past few decades, teachers, like most Americans, continue hearing Black Language as deficient. After years of working on the frontlines of education as a teacher-researcher in Philly and the San Francisco Bay Area, there sadly is one thing I can say for certain: Teachers’ language attitudes have remained remarkably consistent over the last several decades, particularly in terms of the language of their Black students.

And this is why this book is so damn important. What Godley and Reaser have done in this book is a major feat. They have produced, to my knowledge, the first book-length, large-scale analysis of teachers’ attitudes about language varieties and teachers’ development of the sociolinguistic knowledge needed to support critical language approaches. This book follows in a long, strong tradition of critical language scholarship designed to disrupt and transform the troubling ideologies I encountered from teachers throughout my time in the classroom (Alim, 2010).

What Godley and Reaser have done is helped revitalize the generally non-critical American sociolinguistic tradition by drawing from contemporary social and cultural theorists, and more closely aligning with the British tradition of Critical Language Awareness (Fairclough, 1995; Wodak, 1995). Critical Language Awareness views educational institutions as designed to teach ← xv | xvi → citizens about the current sociolinguistic order of things, without challenging that order, which is based largely on the ideology of the dominating group and their desire to maintain social control. This view of education interrogates the dominating discourse on language and foregrounds the examination and interconnectedness of identities, ideologies, histories/herstories and the hierarchical nature of power relations between groups. Research in this area attempts to make the invisible visible by examining the ways in which well-meaning educators attempt to silence diverse languages in White public space by inculcating speakers of heterogeneous language varieties into what are, at their core, White ways of speaking and seeing the word/world, that is, the norms of White, middle-class, heterosexual, northern men.

While American sociolinguistic research has certainly been helpful in providing detailed descriptions of language variation and change, this is certainly where it stops (Lippi-Green, 1997). By viewing the role of language in society through a non-critical lens, the tradition can actually be harming linguistically-profiled and marginalized students. Most American suggestions about pedagogy on language attitudes and awareness tend to discuss linguistic stigmatization in terms of individual prejudices, rather than a discrimination that is part and parcel of the socio-structural fabric of society and serves the needs of those who currently benefit the most from what is portrayed as the “natural” sociolinguistic order of things. Fairclough (1989, pp. 7–8) argues that the job of sociolinguists should be to do more than ask, “What language varieties are stigmatized?” Rather, we should be asking, “How—in terms of the development of social relationships to power—was the existing sociolinguistic order brought into being? How is it sustained? And how might it be changed to the advantage of those who are dominated by it?”

The Critical Language Pedagogy advocated here by Godley and Reaser moves far beyond the traditional sociolinguistic and educational approaches that give lip service to “diversity” but continually default in the elevation of so-called standard English over all other varieties. Further, they draw on Freirian models and expand them (Freire, 1970), developing a critical language pedagogy that aims to educate teachers about more than just how language is used, but also how language is used to oppress others. Teachers need to be encouraged to ask critical questions: How is language used to maintain, reinforce, and perpetuate existing power relations? How can language be used to resist, redefine and possibly reverse these relations? This approach engages in the process of consciousness-raising, that is, the process of actively helping teachers becoming aware of their White privilege, and, importantly, what to do about it. ← xvi | xvii →

These are the kinds of questions that undergird Godley and Reaser’s work with teachers. This work, they acknowledge, is not easy, particularly in terms of addressing race and racism. They noted that many of the limitations they noticed in their teachers’ development of Critical Language Pedagogy “were caused by an avoidance of discussing systems of discrimination and privilege, especially White privilege,” with some overtly denying its existence. (p. 71). As they write, “Understanding how teachers acknowledge or deny this system of [White] privilege and its maintenance through language is crucial to designing effective Critical Language Pedagogy programs for teachers.” They conclude that unless these topics “are explicitly addressed within teacher education curricula and courses, preservice teachers, particularly those who identify as White, will not have opportunities to develop their understanding of racism, White privilege, and Critical Language Pedagogy” (p. 74).

While some teachers in their study (predictably) avoided race and had difficulties (clears throat) addressing White privilege, systemic racism, and linguistic discrimination, the transformative potential of this pedagogy is evident in some of their teachers’ responses. One of their teachers, in particular, Octavia, critiqued typical, non-critical “code-switching” approaches that rely on the same notions of “appropriateness” that Fairclough critiqued a quarter century ago:


XXVI, 174
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (September)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XXVI, 174 pp. 10 tables

Biographical notes

Amanda J. Godley (Author) Jeffrey Reaser (Author)

AMANDA J. GODLEY, Ph.D., is Professor of English Education and Language, Literacy and Culture at the University of Pittsburgh. A former English teacher, she researches issues of equity and literacy learning in high school English classrooms. JEFFREY REASER, Ph.D., is Professor of English at North Carolina State University where he directs the secondary English education program and serves as Associate Director of the Language and Life Project. His work includes the award-winning book Talkin’ Tar Heel and Dialects at School.


Title: Critical Language Pedagogy