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IES Grant

Title: Developing Contrastive Analysis Techniques for Teaching Academic Classroom English to Young African American English-Speaking Students
Center: NCER Year: 2010
Principal Investigator: Craig, Holly Awardee: University of Michigan
Program: Literacy      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years Award Amount: $1,533,892
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A100284

Co-Principal Investigator: Stephen Schilling

Purpose: Failure to achieve basic literacy levels is particularly pronounced for African-American students, as seen in national assessments of reading and writing at all grade levels. Oral language skills are critical to early literacy skills, leading many researchers to consider whether oral language could be leveraged to reduce the achievement gap in literacy for African-American students. Many of these students, particularly those living in large urban centers, are speakers of African-American English (AAE), a linguistically rich, rule-governed variety of English. Recent research suggests that speakers of AAE who learn to "code-switch" and use Academic Classroom English (ACE) for school tasks have improved reading and writing scores. Another body of research also suggests that linguistic competence in ACE can be taught directly to late elementary and older students, resulting in improved literacy. Learning to code switch from AAE to ACE in academic contexts is a potentially malleable factor with significant promise for improving school outcomes for AAE-speaking students. In this project, the researchers will develop an innovative intervention to foster dialect awareness and code-switching skills in AAE-speaking kindergarten and first grade students. The intervention will use Contrastive Analysis (CA), a method successfully used with older students to compare and contrast features of their home language with ACE alternatives. A second goal is to measure change in dialect by developing and validating a grade-appropriate assessment battery.

Project Activities: The researchers will begin with proven techniques for teaching dialect awareness and CA to older students and modify them for use with kindergarten and first grade students. The dialect awareness curriculum, CA strategies, and the Dialect Assessment Battery (DAB) will be refined and revised based on multiple sources of qualitative data from project staff, classroom teachers, students, and an expert advisory panel. In the first two years of the project, classroom-based working groups made up of teachers, research team members, and a language-literacy specialist will be formed to develop, implement, and revise workable strategies. Small groups of students and whole classrooms will participate at different times as the approaches are implemented and revised through different iterations. In parallel, the DAB will be validated. A final prototype of the bi-dialectical curriculum will be pilot tested in the third year of the project to determine the potential use of the intervention for increasing dialect awareness and decreasing AAE feature production rates in kindergarten and first grade students.

Products: The primary products of this study are: (1) a dialect awareness curriculum to help early elementary students recognize AAE and ACE and to distinguish in which contexts the two dialects should be used; (2) a Contrastive Analysis (CA) curriculum to teach students to compare and contrast the two dialects and to translate highly frequent features of AAE into ACE; (3) a brief and valid assessment battery consisting of three established methods (dialect recognition, elicited imitation, and a translation task) that are developmentally appropriate for young students, including scoring forms and rubrics; (4) nine original storybooks that provide frequent examples of critical AAE features in salient linguistic contexts with high interest story lines and illustrations; and (5) clear and explicit training manuals for the bi-dialectical intervention and the DAB.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The setting is an urban school district in Michigan with a large African-American population.

Population: The population for this study includes six schools with greater than 90% African-American student enrollment. In each school, all kindergarten and first grade teachers and students will participate in the development activities.

Intervention: Using Contrastive Analysis (CA) techniques, the intervention will target morpho-syntactic and phonological features of AAE (for example zero past tense, consonant cluster reduction, vowel neutralization) to foster the use of ACE in the classroom for young speakers of AAE. The storybooks will provide the intervention teachers with dialect teaching materials that can be embedded in an authentic language arts curriculum. Each storybook will be assigned one week of instruction, with the story read four times in the designated week.

Research Design and Methods: The storybooks, the instructional strategies, and the accompanying DAB will be refined and revised based on multiple sources of qualitative data from project staff, classroom teachers, students, and an expert advisory panel. In Years 1 and 2, groups of teachers, research team members, and a language-literacy specialist will develop, implement, and revise workable strategies for the curriculum. Students will participate at different times as the approaches are implemented and revised through different iterations. Three instructional activities will be developed and refined along with five instructional discourse types Based on an analysis of collected qualitative data, a penultimate version of the intervention will be implemented by one teacher in a kindergarten and a first grade class. The final prototype will be pilot-tested in Year 3 to determine the promise of the intervention for increasing dialect awareness and decreasing AAE feature production rates in young speakers of African-American English. Implementation fidelity and teacher acceptance of the curriculum will also be assessed.

The DAB will be developed in a similar way and in parallel with the intervention. Three tasks will be created: (1) dialect recognition in the form of an auditory sorting task where students recognize and assign AAE and ACE sentences to formal and informal categories; (2) elicited imitation in which students repeat verbatim pre-recorded prompts spoken in ACE; and (3) a translation task in which students recast AAE prompts into formal ACE sentences. Teachers will complete questionnaires and students will be interviewed to obtain feedback on the usability and perceived difficulty of the three tasks. Teachers and the expert advisory panel will rate all items, delivery protocols, and scoring rubrics as to appropriateness, quality, and ease of use. These data will be examined for emerging themes to guide successive iterations. An instructional design consultant will create test and score forms and a training manual for the finalized battery.

Control Condition: There is no control condition.

Key Measures: The DAB, described above, will be developed by the researchers based on tasks used successfully with older students and modified in the current study to include developmentally appropriate items and testing procedures. The test items will focus on six critical features of African-American English (zero past tense, subject-verb agreement, zero plural, consonant cluster reduction, vowel neutralization, and post-vocalic consonant reduction) that past research has shown to be associated with proficiency in reading and writing. Field notes, open-ended interviews, and questionnaires will be used to collect data about the acceptability of the storybooks. Running records, observations, and questionnaires will be used to determine if the curriculum is functioning as intended. A structured observation form will be used to assess fidelity of implementation and teacher acceptance of the bi-dialectical curriculum.

Data Analytic Strategy: For the development of the story books and the curriculum, qualitative data gathered through field notes, observations, interviews, and questionnaires will be analyzed for emerging themes regarding stated objectives including targeted AAE and ACE contrasts, student engagement, and teacher acceptance. The DAB will be evaluated for validity and reliability. For the pilot study, students' scores on the DAB will be compared pre- and post-intervention using pairwise t-tests.

Related IES Projects: Exploring the Contribution of Social, Cognitive, and Linguistic Factors on the Development of Style Shifting by Young African-American English-speaking Students Learning to Read (R305A120320)



Craig, H. (2016). African American English and the Achievement Gap: The Role of Dialectal Code Switching. Routledge.

Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Craig, H.K., Kolenic, G.E., and Hensel, S.L (2014). African American English-Speaking Students: A Longitudinal Examination of Style Shifting from Kindergarten through Second Grade. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 57(1): 143–157.

Schachter, R.E., and Craig, H.K. (2013). Students' Production of Narrative and AAE Features during an Emergent Literacy Task. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 44(3): 227–238.