The First Step: Teacher Endorsement of Innovative Language Awareness Practices

The First Step: Teacher Endorsement of Innovative Language Awareness Practices

Voghn E. Tatem (The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados) and Martha Kimberly Marrast (The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4075-6.ch007
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Many of the current teacher resources fail to address the differences between home and target language; therefore, teachers in Barbados need to intentionally incorporate language awareness in their English Language teaching. Based on Craig's three-step orientation for language teaching and learning, this chapter presents data that sought to assist in concretizing the theory through practical application. For the research, eight teachers participated in a workshop designed to facilitate exposure to innovative uses of language awareness and expressed views about the application of the strategy within a focus group. Moreover, rich textual information was gathered through a thematic analysis of data. While participants expressed mixed views on the value of Bajan Dialect in the classroom, they agreed that some element of language awareness was needed. Further, they held the perspective that the implementation of the strategy would advance English Language teaching and learning in Barbados and move toward transformation in pedagogical practices.
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In most Anglophone Caribbean territories, while the vernacular seems to have significantly deviated from the standard variety, the terms “English” and “Standard English” are still used interchangeably; a further definition is necessary that shows the linguistic distinction between the vernacular and the standard. Without the required clarity about the features of the varieties of languages existing in each territory, the teaching of Standard English presents a dilemma for teachers which affects learners’ overall language and literacy development. As a consequence, this area of education continues to be the topic of several discussions on language teaching among practitioners in the region. Additionally, across the region, there appears to be a general decline in learners’ language proficiency, as exhibited in writing and reading scores at the school and national levels. For example, in St. Lucia, creole and creole-influenced speakers, whose language instruction is done solely in English, do not perform well in exams (Simmons-Mc-Donald, 2004). In Barbados, Standard English (SE) operates as the official language alongside the local vernacular, Bajan Dialect (BD). Many BD speakers refer to the vernacular as “raw” Bajan, and perceive of it as an aberrant of English, rather than a separate and fully developed linguistic system. Thus, in the school system, students who are competent in their vernacular, which is also their home language, but not proficient in Standard English, are labeled as non-proficient in English. The categorization then results in varying levels of frustration for both teachers and students during the teaching and learning of Standard English (SE).

Thus, the predicament with instruction in the classroom calls for a shift from language teaching and learning practices that currently place a heavy emphasis on teaching English as if it were the learners' mother tongue. This instructional method prevents learners from effectively using their vernacular to aid in their increased proficiency in SE. It is therefore paramount that the distinction between the two varieties is made known to students and that they are taught the appropriate uses of each. The transition should include a focus on language awareness that requires both students and teachers to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to navigate between the coexisting varieties in their community. Students would then be able to draw on their growing linguistic knowledge of the varieties with which they have to come in contact. At the same time, teachers can make an effort to compensate for any shortcomings with the content in textbooks or other prescribed materials. This adaptation comes highly recommended and creates a viable equation of language teaching plus language awareness, which results in language proficiency (Wright and Bolitho, 1993). For this outcome to become a reality in Barbados, it is necessary to understand how teachers feel about purposefully acknowledging BD as the home language of the students and their perception of its role in teaching SE.

It seems that when teachers are given information relevant specifically to their community, they are better able to tailor instructional materials and tools to promote language awareness. It is equally important that support of such initiatives is garnered and promoted for transformative pedagogy to be introduced which can enhance the SE competence and performance of Barbadian students. With the application of transformative instruction, the basic principle of the prevalent method of language teaching are counter-argued, and the reality of the Barbadian learning context is addressed. Furthermore, the use of appropriate teaching methods must be included based on the students’ developmental appropriate abilities. Henniger (2005) described the developmentally appropriate practice as having two dimensions: age appropriateness and individual appropriateness. The concept of the former requires teachers to facilitate learning to which the average child at a particular age can relate and understand. At the same time, individual appropriateness acknowledges that each student has unique interests, which, when catered to, inspire him or her to achieve more academically.

Key Terms in this Chapter

English as Mother Tongue Approach: A language teaching approach that is tailored for students’ whose first language is English.

Culturally Relevant Teaching: The teacher's practice of using their awareness of the varying elements of their community’s culture and the consequent impact on their students' learning to inform their teaching.

Communicative CALL: The stage of CALL that is based upon cognitive theories of learning and featured programmes that promoted language discovery, expression, and development through the use of such technology as social media and chatrooms.

Bajan Dialect: The language variety spoken by the majority of Barbadian locals.

Digital Comics: Comics accessed and read via computer software.

Computer-Assisted Language Learning: A teaching strategy that makes use of technological resources in the teaching and learning of a language.

Behavioristic CALL: The stage of CALL that features characteristics based on the behaviorist learning model. Repetitive language drills were the main features of this stage.

Integrative CALL: The third stage of CALL that further builds upon cognitive approaches by integrating authentic, social contexts in its methodologies

Language Awareness: The way in which a person understands the functions of the language he or she speaks.

Vlog: A personal website or social media account on which learners regularly posts their short videos now used for posting writings.

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