Knowledge of African-American language and culture benefits teachers in STEM fields

A new study of K-12 STEM educators demonstrates how adding linguistic information into classroom teaching can help remove barriers to STEM achievement for African-American students. The article, "Balancing the Communication Equation: An Outreach and Engagement Model for Using Sociolinguistics to Enhance Culturally and Linguistically Sustaining K-12 STEM Education," by Christine Mallinson (University of Maryland, Baltimore County) and Anne H. Charity Hudley (University of California, Santa Barbara), will be published in the September, 2018 issue of the scholarly journal Language.

Students do not leave their patterns at the door when they enter a classroom—including in STEM courses. The words that teachers and students use, their communication strategies, and the intentions and meanings of their discourse are central to classroom interactions and dynamics. Ensuring that students and educators from different backgrounds understand and communicate respectfully with each other can be as important as helping students understand the material in their textbooks. One significant challenge, however, is the fact that comprehensive information about language and culture are not often part of K-12 STEM teacher preparation programs. As a result, though STEM educators may realize that linguistic issues play a role in teaching and learning, they may be unprepared to address them.

This study addressed this gap by holding a series of workshops on language and culture with 60 K-12 STEM educators in Maryland and Virginia, specifically to reach those who taught in schools that serve predominantly African-American students—a population underserved in STEM fields and careers. Through follow-up surveys, interviews, and focus groups with K-12 STEM educators, the authors investigated how cultural and linguistic diversity relate to STEM teaching and learning, particularly for African-American students.

Evidence from this study suggests that having insight into language and culture benefits STEM teaching. Such knowledge includes which languages and language varieties students are using, why specific linguistic characteristics appear in students' speech and writing, and where potential linguistic biases can occur in teachers' materials and assessments. For example, word problems, questions, texts, and directions can often cause challenges, as STEM disciplines abound with unfamiliar and difficult academic language and content area-specific jargon. In addition, differences in communication practices and interactions can also lead to linguistic inequalities within classrooms and schools. Feedback from educators who participated in this study reveals that it is often in more nuanced interchanges—including microaggressions that educators may not even notice—that miscommunications and linguistic/cultural mismatches can arise. As the authors demonstrate, K-12

STEM educators who are aware of such issues and adept at addressing them are better equipped to support African-American students.

The authors offer specific recommendations for K-12 STEM educators seeking to develop robust cultural and linguistic competencies that include establishing partnerships with local linguists to show how language, culture, and education matter in STEM and using linguistic insight to invite students into the culture and discourse of science learning and exploration. They also offer suggestions to linguists who partner with K-12 educators, emphasizing the need to develop materials that are informed by teacher insight, pedagogical need, and cultural context.

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More information: A pre-print copy is available here: .
Journal information: Language

Citation: Knowledge of African-American language and culture benefits teachers in STEM fields (2018, September 4) retrieved 15 October 2019 from
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Sep 04, 2018
Can STEM be taught in E-bubonics? Perhaps.

I'll bet the employer from which I retired won't hire one.

Sep 04, 2018
There is no African-American language. These guys will do ANYTHING to push their utopian dreams.

Sep 04, 2018
This article is pure foolishness and is anti-American. Educators who speak Ebonics instead of well-constructed English to schoolchildren are guilty of deception and disinformation. All over the world, proper English is spoken in the STEM professions and in high school and college classrooms. The idiots in the US who want to subvert young children into thinking that the learning and use of proper English is an arbitrary choice should all be fired from their jobs as educators and school administrators.
There are many other ethnic groups in the US and all of them like to speak their own ethnic language at home.
If Ebonics were to be spoken solely in schools, it would be discriminatory when there are also children in that school who speak another language at home, such as Greek, Spanish, Hebrew, German, Polish, Filipino (Tagalog). Mandarin and many others. Will educators only speak the language culture of Blacks and ignore the languages and cultures of all others? Disgraceful!

Sep 05, 2018
After reading the article a second time, the wording seems to be describing an initiative to dumb-down the STEM curriculum because it would be too much of a challenge to students who may be ill-prepared to withstand the tough subject matter that they would have to learn and comprehend, regardless of their preferred language and culture. The unfortunate STEM educators in this scheme may have no choice but to comply with such an incomprehensible mockery of a student-teacher understanding of a seamless teaching and learning process.

Sep 05, 2018
"Students do not leave their language patterns at the door when they enter a
classroom—including in STEM courses."

This is true. They also Do leave everything they learn in English class, at the door, when
they Exit the classroom.
For children to learn, they need support both at home and in the classroom. When I say "children", I am referring to K through high school seniors.
It used to be, children were passed through the grades, no matter how they performed, just to get rid of them. (not good) Now the curriculum gets twisted, to conform to the lowest denominator , of student, and leaves the middle performers behind. (also not good) The high performers will always be high performers.

Sep 05, 2018
I started school, in St. Louis, in 1957. Things were Already screwed up and they haven't gotten any better. Teachers do not get any support or decent pay, often spending their own money in the classroom. Then there are, of course, the worthless (and crazy) "teachers", if you want to call them that, who are never gotten rid of.

Sep 05, 2018
Then you are around the same age as Dr. Ben Carson. Dr. Carson should be one of the most awe-inspiring Americans in recent times. Black, White, Hispanic, and parents of all other ethnicities should look up to this man who came out of nowhere and learned to understand what was required to become successful. It was not easy for him, but his Mother inspired him to improve himself in whatever way possible, and to forego the culture and the language of the streets.

Sep 05, 2018
""Benjamin Solomon Carson Sr. (born September 18, 1951) is an American politician, author and former neurosurgeon serving as the 17th and current United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development since 2017, under the Trump Administration. Prior to his cabinet position, he was a candidate for President of the United States in the Republican

Born in Detroit, Michigan, and a graduate of Yale University and the University of Michigan Medical School, Carson has authored numerous books on his medical career and political stances. He was the subject of a television drama film in 2009.
He was the Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland from 1984 until his retirement in 2013. As a pioneer in neurosurgery, Carson's achievements include performing the only successful separation of conjoined twins joined at the back of the head; pioneering the first successful neurosurgical procedure on a fetus inside the womb; ...

Sep 05, 2018
Dr, Ben Carson, even at a young age, rose to the challenge of the school curriculum at each grade level that he attained, then went further and higher in scholastic achievements so that it did not matter that he was of poor circumstances.

I highly recommend Dr. Carson's autobiography and his other books.

In STEM, the colour of one's skin, cultural background and language spoken at home has no bearing on one's skills and achievements. Those who wish to dumb down the curriculum leading to a career/profession in STEM are grossly maladjusted in their own mind.

Sep 07, 2018


Ben Shapiro gives a lecture on these very issues.

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