After spending class days immersed in English language and grammar lessons, many of Jennifer McCreight’s elementary school students went home to speak Spanish, their first and primary language. McCreight observed a striking disconnect between the students’ school and home lives. But rather than work against the grain, she worked with it.
“The students didn’t connect to the language and grammar curriculum supplied by the schools,” explains McCreight, now an assistant professor of education at Hiram College. “So, these children, their families, many other teachers and I worked to change that.”
McCreight pays thoughtful consideration to differences in language and dialect to help teachers harmonize these variances in their grammar lessons through her new book, “Celebrating Diversity Through Language Study: A New Approach to Grammar Lessons.”
Geared for practicing and aspiring teachers, the book represents a year’s work of language study and the experiences of classes of first and third graders who tried to better contextualize grammar.
McCreight says she drew inspiration for the book from her experiences as an early childhood educator. English was a second language for 70 percent of her Spanish-speaking students. The other 30 percent of McCreight’s students spoke English at home with either Standard English or African American Vernacular English dialects.
The book, which will be available later this month at www.heinemann.com and through Amazon, focuses on linking language study to the backgrounds of children in grades kindergarten through six. Taking a student-centered approach, the book aims to teach students how to negotiate the language they use, based on context. It also builds on students’ background knowledge to make language study relevant for all children.
Step by step, the book helps teachers develop lesson plans that bring together children’s home and school languages. The result: more authentic grammar lessons that help students view their personal backgrounds as significant and connected to the study of words.
McCreight describes her work as a challenge she took very seriously.
“Simply writing something so involved was very challenging, especially as I tried to capture the voices of the students, families and teachers I worked with. I always wanted their knowledge and experiences to come through authentically. They are such brilliant and thoughtful people,” she says.