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NCTE Position Statement

Resolution on the Student’s Right to Incorporate Heritage and Home Languages in Writing - Previous Revision

2011 Annual Business Meeting in Chicago, Illinois

Background

This resolution builds on NCTE’s longstanding policies on students’ right to their own language, including previous resolutions: El día de los niños/El día de los libros (2005), Developing and Maintaining Fluency in More than One Language (1997), English as a Second Language and Bilingual Education (1982), Students’ Right to Their Own Language (1974) and, in particular, the 1986 and 2008 resolutions opposing English-only practices that displace or denigrate students’ home languages. This resolution also builds on similar resolutions affirmed over the past four decades by the Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC).

 

Because of continued misunderstandings in popular media and many school systems about the pedagogical importance of students’ (of all ages) opportunities to use home languages* in their classroom writing, this resolution is proposed to bring specific attention to the educational value of instructional practices that support students in drawing from the varied resources of their home languages to enrich their writing.

 

When students have opportunities to incorporate home languages in their construction of written texts, they (a) draw on a rich range of linguistic and cultural resources to express complex thought, (b) accelerate their acquisition of academic discourses, (c) develop multilingual abilities, (d) become more semantically and syntactically adept as they develop abilities in text comprehension and construction, and (e) enlarge their competency in public discourse. Importantly, they are afforded greater opportunities to develop writerly identities “reduc[ing] the distance between home and school, while helping [them] to become more invested in school learning” (Yi, 2007).

 

The ability to incorporate both home language and the language of wider communication in writing is a valued skill beyond schools. Well-known authors regularly use these strategies to enrich and extend possibilities for expression in fiction and nonfiction texts (e.g., Alice Walker, Junot Diaz, Gary Soto, Sherman Alexie, Langston Hughes, Carolyn Forché, Toni Morrison, Amy Tan, Pedro Pietri, Joy Harjo, Pat Mora, Alma Flor Ada, as well as authors in the fields of science and law). In the same way, students and their audiences can benefit from opportunities and encouragement to draw on varied linguistic and cultural resources in their writing.

 

Such opportunities affirm student voice and address issues of identity, culture, and politics: When students’ home languages – spoken or written – are denied, their voices become muted and they become invisible in the larger society. Such “cultural dissonance [causes them] to shrink away from formal education before they [can] fully develop” (Gilyard, 1991). Be it therefore

* The term “home language” denotes the language used in students’ family and community lives, such as African American Vernacular English, Spanish, Mandarin, among many others.

References:  Yi, Y. (2007). “Engaging literacy: A biliterate student’s composing practices beyond school.” Journal of Second Language Writing 16: 23-39.  Gilyard, K. (1991). “Voices of the Self: A Study of Language Competence.” In R. D. Abrahams (Ed), Cultural Diversity in American Education. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press (774–778).

 

RESOLUTION

 

RESOLVED, that the National Council of Teachers of English support
  • policies and practices that affirm the student’s right to use his or her home language as well as the language of wider communication to enrich their classroom writing; and
  • professional development initiatives that help teachers understand (a) how such practices promote students’ acquisition of academic discourses, competence in a repertoire of codes and discourses, ability to communicate complex thoughts, semantic and syntactic proficiency across codes, and positive writerly identities; and (b) how monolingual teachers or teachers who do not speak or understand a student’s home language can embrace and support the use of home languages in the classroom.

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