Hi. I’m interested in your ideas and I am a teacher who has to try to help students navigate the…
Kerry Pulleyn

What does valuing students language actually mean?

I think scholars like Chris Emdin and Jamilah Lyiscott (both cited in the piece) or Lisa Delpit would be best equipped to answer this.

However here’s my best shot:

I think valuing students (and their “native” languages) starts with a mindset shift. In the United States, our system and our teachers are essentially working from a deficit mindset. With our kids of color this means looking at them as a collection of deficiencies that need to be corrected, rather than understanding the myriad of strengths and intelligences all children bring to a classroom.

If you already look at the slang of your students as a valid and complex form of communication, this is a powerful first step.

Moving forward the work gets trickier I believe. Once you have committed yourself to an asset-based way of thinking, the goal then is to simultaneously find ways to incorporate examples of students’ native language into your teaching (thus increasing student engagement) and teach them the rules of the system of power (again Delpit would be a better resource than me on this).

For example, I talk to my students about how they might shift their writing if they’re sending a text to a friend, writing a letter to their grandma or writing a letter to President Obama.

What I mean by teaching them the rules of power is by making the distinctions and expectations of written and spoken academic English explicit. And part of this means examining how these modes of communication came to be prioritized and valued over other forms, i.e. looking at the history of racism, classism and other types of oppression.

The goal for my teaching is for my students to see and hear themselves in the curriculum while understanding the way our society is structured and how they can navigate it successfully in order to ultimately change it.