Middle School Teacher in Rural Alaska

Code-Switching Lessons

on May 8, 2011

“Last summer my family and I go to Aunt Sue fish camp.  When we were there we swim lots.”

“We was working on our free shots and then the buzzer ring and it was time to start the basketball game.

“I was on my uncle snowmachine and I lift up my uncle rifle to shoot the caribou that was right by us.”

For two years, I have taught writing to Native Alaskans in an incredibly rural, isolated village. For two years, I have remarked on what wonderful, unique stories my students have to tell. For two years, I have wielded a red pen and asked students to “correct” the mistakes they make in their writing. A few weeks ago, as I was reading students’ writing I threw down my papers in frustration.  All the correcting that I was doing on their papers was having absolutely no effect! It was nearly the end of the school year and students were still making the same “grammar mistakes” that they had been making at the beginning of the year.  We had even been using grammar workbooks daily and those didn’t seem to make any difference either; students could get some of the answers correct in their workbooks, but this never translated to their writing.” Fed up, not with my students, but with my own ineffective practices I decided it was time for a new approach.

One book I ordered was Code-Switching Lessons: Grammar Strategies for Linguistically Diverse Writers by Rebecca Wheeler and Rachel Swords.  The Code-Switching approach relies on the idea of contrastive analysis. The lessons in this book ask students to compare and contrast formal and informal grammar patterns and then deduce the patterns of each.  For example, in the unit on showing possession students examine the chart below and then explain what the pattern is on the informal side and the formal side.  Further lessons in the unit give students practice applying both patterns.

The book has eleven units: diversity in life and language, showing possession, plural patterns, reviewing possessive and plural patterns, showing past time, subject-verb agreement, was/were, am/is/are, using be, multiple patterns, and character and voice in literature.  Each unit focuses only on one grammar topic and thus ensures that students achieve mastery in each topic before adding in new topics. There are enough units and lessons that teachers can use this for months of effective instruction. At the same time, the units focus on the most important grammar patterns and do not bog students down with excessive details or trivial grammar rules.

Any teacher with students who do not speak Standard English in the home should rush out immediately and purchase this book!  This book promotes a lively approach to language that will involve and engage students. In addition, research included in the book shows that this approach to grammar is far more effective than correcting students’ writing. I have not yet tried this approach in my classroom, but for next year these lessons will be my primary mode of grammar instruction.

Wheeler, Rebecca & Rachel Swords. Code-Switching Lessons: Grammar Strategies for Linguistically Diverse Writers. Firsthand Heinemann, 2010. 978-0-325-02610-7. $42


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: