Language and Literacy Connections for Children Who are African American Focusing on the links between language and literacy, this paper discusses possible reasons for the persistent reading skill gap between African American and White children. Three theories that describe the mechanisms through which the use of African American English (AAE) might affect literacy learning include (a) teacher bias against AAE, ... Article
Article  |   July 01, 2008
Language and Literacy Connections for Children Who are African American
Author Affiliations & Notes
  • Carol McDonald Connor
    Florida State University and the Florida Center for Reading Research, Tallahassee, FL
Article Information
Development / Cultural & Linguistic Diversity / Normal Language Processing / Articles
Article   |   July 01, 2008
Language and Literacy Connections for Children Who are African American
Perspectives on Communication Disorders and Sciences in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Populations, July 2008, Vol. 15, 43-53. doi:10.1044/cds15.2.43
Perspectives on Communication Disorders and Sciences in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Populations, July 2008, Vol. 15, 43-53. doi:10.1044/cds15.2.43
Abstract

Focusing on the links between language and literacy, this paper discusses possible reasons for the persistent reading skill gap between African American and White children. Three theories that describe the mechanisms through which the use of African American English (AAE) might affect literacy learning include (a) teacher bias against AAE, (b) the mismatch between the phonological and morphosyntactic structure of AAE and Standard or Mainstream American English (SAE), and (c) the linguistic flexibility theory, which suggests that it is not the mismatch per se that interferes with literacy learning, but rather students' limited linguistic flexibility. Thus, children who have strong linguistic flexibility are able to switch between the phonological and morphosyntactic structures of AAE and text SAE facilely, but children with weaker linguistic flexibility do not. Plus, a disproportionate number of African American children live in poverty. Thus, they tend to have weaker language and vocabulary skills (and, hence, less linguistic flexibility) when compared to their more affluent peers. By promoting teachers' understanding and sensitivity to students' AAE use and encouraging the use of more effective instructional strategies that are responsive to students' skills and areas of weakness, SLPs can work with teachers to help them understand ways to support African American children's language and literacy learning.

Acknowledgment
This work was supported in part by grants #R305H04013 and R305B070074, “Child by Instruction Interactions: Effects of Individualizing Instruction” from the U.S. Department of Education, Institute for Education Sciences, and by grant R01HD48539 from the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development. I would like to thank Shurita Thomas-Tate for early work on the organization and content of the papers, Anne Charity and Nicole Patton Terry for their feedback on earlier versions of this chapter, and Michael Love.
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