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Acting out and talking back: negotiating discourses in American early educational settings

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As a first-grade teacher preparing for the upcoming year, I was shocked to learn that George was on my new roll. His previous teacher wrote that George was a 'behaviour problem', was defiant, talked back to adults, didn't speak properly, was behind academically and spent over half of kindergarten in detention. George initially gave me negative impressions, using non-standard English and more direct speech than I expected. Yet by listening closely and employing classroom discourse analysis, I came to recognise George's contributions, consequently working to dispel the myth that African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) is wrong. I started analysing my own talk, instead of blaming George for misunderstandings. We openly talked about the use of direct and indirect statements. Through this study, I suggest that kidwatching, looking closely at interactions and contexts, and seeing AAVE as a resource in class, can positively affect young children and their teachers.
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Keywords: African-American English; classroom interactions; discourse; early educational contexts; language socialisation; linguistic and cultural diversity

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Child & Family Development, University of Georgia, Athens, USA

Publication date: December 1, 2009

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