Tag Archives: Language

Writing Language and Culture

This is a guest post by Ellen Shubich. 

Language changes, as do the “rules” related to its usage.

My sixteen-year-old granddaughter drew my attention to this when she enlightened me about the unspoken rules widely adhered to by teens that apply to the social network she uses.

The directives of social networks have developed over time. For example, I found that My Space, an early network, had very strict indications. According to Clare Stephens,
“You had to put your very best friend in your Top Eight, or you might
as well have told the whole school they were a loser.” “You HAD to
reply ‘thnx 4 that add:)’ when someone added you, and you HAD to
reply to their comments on your page.”

Stephens adds that more recent networks, like Instagram and Snapchat, have their own rules. Instagram users want to have more followers than they follow. They know that to get the most likes, prime posting time is between 5 and 7 p.m.

Snapchatters often take as many selfies as possible, the uglier and weirder the better, rather than the posed snaps that are more customary on Instagram. Teens know to avoid overposting and to maintain streaks, especially long ones. They avoid posting the same content on Instagram, Snapchat, and private messages.

These emerging network directives reflect the social and emotional demands placed on teenagers. Peer pressures, the desire to belong and to be in fashion, and the extensive use of slang are characteristic of this stage of life. Teachers are aware of how these pressures affect class participation, relationships, and work. And as teachers of language, we often draw students’ attention to the types of language used in the different social networks, but I am not sure if we focus sufficiently on the languages’ social and emotional components.

A case in point: As the networks’ rules developed, the language(s) underwent transformations. New words such as Facebook’s unfriend appeared; trolls departed fairytales to do damage in new, more personal venues; emoticons imaged feelings.

Of itself, this is nothing new. Language has always undergone change. Authors from Dickens to Dr. Seuss invented new words we use every day. New words are continually added to the dictionary. James Joyce changed the language by avoiding punctuation, and rap changed the rhythm of language.

No matter what grade or subject we teach, it is essential for students to understand that language is a living entity and the changes it undergoes affect the way we think, feel, and act. The language we use and the accompanying explicit and implicit rules influence social and emotional development. The relationship of language to bullying is a prime example. To be “unfriended” or trolled may be a truly disturbing experience.

It is essential for teachers to introduce this conversation. As we teach language, we are also responsible for the healthy growth of our children. Guiding them toward a deeper understanding of the implications of language is an important step toward that goal.

[1] Stephens, Clare. “There’s an unspoken set of ‘rules’ teenagers religiously follow on Instagram.” MamaMia. N.p., 10 Jan. 2017. Web.

[2] Choi, Mary H. K. “12 Rules for Winning at Snapchat Like a Boss—A Teen Boss.” Wired. N.p., 25 Aug. 2016. Web.

[3] Dickson, Paul. “How authors from Dickens to Dr. Seuss invented the words we use every day.” The Guardian. N.p., 17 June 2014. Web.

 Ellen Shubich was born and raised in the Bronx and moved to Mexico 48 years ago when she married. She has a B.S.N. degree from Cornell University-New York Hospital and a Masters Degree in Educational Administration from the Universidad La Salle. Ellen has held many different positions: nurse, gerontologist, teacher of nursing, English teacher, coordinator, principal (Elementary and Middle School), and English principal. She is married, has a son and daughter and three grandchildren. 

Sneak Preview of May EJ: Textual Revolution: Reading and Writing the Word and the World

The following post is by Julie Gorlewski and David Gorlewski, NCTE members and editors of the English Journal.

Words matter. Oral traditions of Indigenous peo­ples sustain connections to land, cultural traditions, and historical accounts. Written language in the Declaration of Independence set in motion colonial liberation from England. And digital speech has the capacity to create swift social movements across vast distances.

Laws are written in words. Justice and op­pression are reinforced through language; words inspire hope and cause despair. Many ideas are born in and nurtured through language. Words offer a means of sharing dreams. Words also transmit ha­tred and incite violence. Words can spread love and foment malevolence. Words can bridge differences and build walls.

English teachers work in the world of words. Our practice involves immersing learners in lan­guage and ensuring that they are buoyed by pow­erful texts. We hope to teach them to consume and produce words, and to understand reading and writing are as natural and necessary as breathing. But words are not air; people can survive without exercising the power of language. And danger exists in such defenseless survival. Societies that cede the power of words to leaders risk both integrity and liberty. When “alternative facts” drive policy deci­sions, the public suffers. The path toward justice recedes. Words become weapons of domination.

Educators have the capacity to teach language as a tool of transformation. Poets are protesters. Authors reveal dystopian and utopian possibilities through literature. Journalists are soldiers in service of truth. In our classrooms, students can be poets, authors, and journalists. We can teach them to dis­cover the multiple meanings in texts and to contest propaganda with truths. Teachers can model reflec­tive, critical consumption of texts, as well as coura­geous production of essential dissent.

In this issue, authors explore how textual rev­olutions occur within and stretch beyond classroom walls. They investigate how texts have evolved and reflect on how this evolution influences how learn­ers experience language as an instrument of su­premacy or resistance.

Our learners are tomorrow’s leaders. They will invent textual applications beyond our imag­ination, but only if we teach them that they can. They will use words to challenge inequities and advocate for justice, but only if they learn to ex­ercise the power of language. As English teachers, we are charged to cultivate skills and foster dispo­sitions. Learners deserve the capacity and the desire to use language as a means of personal enlighten­ment and social transformation. We can embrace the evolution of discourse and teach students to re­flect intentionally on how language affects human­ity. Reflection, coupled with evolution, can lead to revolutionary textual practices, uses of words that can change the world.

Language matters to us, and it matters to our students. If we do our work well, today’s learners will know that words are a matter of life and death.

JulieGorlewskiJulie Gorlewski is chair of the Department of Teaching and Learning at Virginia Commonwealth University.

DavidGorlewskiDavid Gorlewski works with preservice and practicing teachers and conducts research on literacy and professional dispositions.  Both are former English teachers and members of NCTE, Julie since 2004 and David since 2001.


Grammar to Get Things Done: Language Choices in Real Situations

This post is written by members Darren Crovitz and Michelle Devereaux, authors of Grammar To Get Things Done: A Practical Guide for Teachers Anchored in Real-World Usage, a co-publication of Routledge and NCTE. 

crovitz-devereaux-book-coverMention grammar to students, and you’ll likely get a response somewhere between fear and loathing. Beyond the rare fans of sentence diagramming, teachers usually react with similar unease or frustration.

Grammar is a thorny thing. In our work with preservice English teachers, we’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out how best to help our candidates navigate some realities of grammar and usage:

  1. controlling the surface features of their own communication to meet professional expectations,
  2. building a comfortable working knowledge of common grammatical concepts, and
  3. putting strategies into practice for teaching grammar effectively with their future students.

There are no easy solutions here. Each of these objectives is an ongoing, incremental project that requires consistent metacognitive attention from teachers and teacher candidates. This is work that, realistically, takes years.

Most of us know what the research indicates: that teaching grammar in isolation isn’t effective. The alternative is usually teaching “grammar in context,” which often translates to students considering the moves that writers make in classroom texts. Meanwhile, using students’ own communication as the basis for constructive language study may sound like a fruitful possibility, but it’s also a daunting prospect for teachers with a hundred or more students. There are few models for having such conversations in the classroom.

Every day, young people use language in unique and sophisticated ways to get what they want and need. Can we leverage these moments to help them take up and practice specific grammar moves intentionally? Can we help them bring their subconscious language knowledge to their conscious language use? Can we show them how grammatical fluency can help them achieve real, immediate goals in the world? For example, consider the following:

  • You just had a fender-bender driving Grandpa’s vintage car. In your phone call to him, use passive voice to de-emphasize your responsibility.
  • At your school’s homecoming pep rally, you’ll have a few moments on the microphone to motivate the crowd to support the football team in tonight’s big game. Use compound sentence structure and parallelism to create a classic rallying cry.
  • What’s the best way to end a relationship? Your friend Yulia was just going to send a text to her soon-to-be-ex Casey, but after talking it over with you, she’s decided that a face-to-face conversation is more respectful. It won’t be easy, but Yulia is determined to make a clean break. Help your friend prepare for her heart-to-heart with Casey by planning out what she’s going to say. Try to use some simple sentences intentionally—be direct and clear—without being cruel.

As English teachers, we have a responsibility to include discussions of power, society, and identity when we teach language. Ultimately, language is a form of power: shaping reality, changing minds, getting things done. Grammar instruction, then, should include conversations about using language purposely but also ethically. This is grammar at work in our lives, and—perhaps—what grammar and language study should be in the classroom.

darrencrovitzDarren Crovitz is professor of English Education at Kennesaw State University. He is co-author of Inside Out: Strategies for Teaching Writing, 4th ed. (Heinemann, 2013). Darren and Michelle will be presenting at the NCTE Annual Convention Saturday, 11:00 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. I.45 Grammar to Get Things Done, Room B405.

michelledevereauxMichelle Devereaux is assistant professor of English Education at Kennesaw State University. She is the author of Teaching About Dialect Variations and Language in Secondary English Classrooms (Routledge, 2015) and the winner of the 2016 CEE Richard Meade award.