McCreight, Jennifer Anne
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For some children, the patterns of speaking they learn at home do not correlate with the Standardized English spoken in most schools. This often causes children to believe their home language is inferior to Standardized English, and they can struggle to connect their home and school worlds (Delpit, 1994; Hudley & Mallinson, 2011). Through a combined ethnographic and Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL) approach, this study chronicles the experience of 1st-grade students who spoke Spanish or African American Vernacular English (AAVE) at home and in their larger community, as they engaged in a study where they investigated language and its power in a contextualized way. Three questions guide the research: how the stories and home language of students/families contributed to this linguistic curriculum, the connections they made between language in different contexts and its purpose in their lives, and the use of SFL as both a pedagogical and methodological tool to analyze language used and power enacted by participants. To address these questions, the dissertation tells how 1st graders, families, teachers, and community members drew on background knowledge, experiences, and relationships to co-construct a metalanguage with which to discuss language, its use in different contexts, and opportunities to share diverse language with others. The story builds on the work of such critical scholars as Heath (1983/1996), Delpit (1994), Dyson (2001), and Allen (2010) to support the stance that language study which builds from students’ background knowledge leads to a nuanced understanding of language use in the world. By incorporating SFL, the relationship-based interpersonal metafunction reveals both the relationships present and roles enacted by the study’s participants, as well as the basis for the classroom community’s metalanguage (Halliday, 1994). Implications for teachers, schools, districts, and researchers are woven into the study, and practitioner/school suggestions for implementation are discussed at the conclusion of each chapter. They include the importance of teachers partnering with students and their families in constructing a contextualized language study, and the rich connections students developed between language and issues of social justice when they were encouraged to examine words in their world.