Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Re-Examining ESL Programs in Public Schools: A Focus on Creole-English Children's Clause-Structuring Strategies in Written Academic Discourse

Academic journal article Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table

Re-Examining ESL Programs in Public Schools: A Focus on Creole-English Children's Clause-Structuring Strategies in Written Academic Discourse

Article excerpt

Abstract

The goal of the study was to compare the literacy challenges faced by children who speak nonstandard dialects of English and for whom Standard English is a second dialect with challenges faced by children for whom Standard English is a second language. The study focused on the extent to which discourse patterns in the Creole-English speech community and, concomitantly, in the children's linguistic repertoire, are reflected in their registers of academic writing. More specifically, the study examined how challenges related to clause structure (a register feature of academic writing) manifest themselves in Creole-English children's writing compared with the clause-structuring challenges faced by ESL children. Findings indicated that Creole-English-speaking children used more paratactic-hypotactic clause structures typical of spoken or conversational discourse in their writing than their ESL counterparts. The linguistic structure of English-based Creoles as well as the particularities of the creole continuum were purported to contribute to the higher frequency of paratactic and hypotactic clauses in the Creole-English children's academic expository essays.

Introduction

In the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom, Caribbean English-based Creoles are the most common nonstandard dialects of English (1) in schools due to the increasing rate of migration from the Anglophone Caribbean. Therefore, ESL professionals in these countries are now coming in contact with immigrant children for whom standard English is not English as a second language but English as a second dialect. For these children, Standard English is neither a native nor nonnative language but a second dialect. They are classified as such because their native languages, English-based Creoles or Creole-English varieties generally correspond to Standard English at the lexical level but diverge considerably from the Standard at the morphological and syntactic levels. Because teachers in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom are not familiar with the structure of Creole-English varieties, children who speak these varieties are placed in ESL classes designed for children who are nonnative speakers of English. This misplacement is due to the fact that English-language programs found in public schools in the above-mentioned countries represent a dichotomy--one for children who are native speakers of English and the other for children who are nonnative speakers English, i.e., children who are ESL learners. This dichotomy is problematic in that it has historically marginalized and excluded one of the largest populations of speakers of nonstandard dialects of English in the schools, namely, Creole-English-speaking children. Therefore, these children's linguistic experiences are not recognized and their literacy needs are usually not attended to (Clachar, 2003).

This study takes the position that Creole-English children exhibit different literacy challenges than do children who are ESL learners. Thus, the misplacement of Creole children in ESL classes may compound their difficulties related to academic writing skills. In order to address this postulation as well as to facilitate international research in the area of ESL and ESD (2), the study focused on Creole-English and ESL children in the United States with the future goal of including a similar population of immigrant children in the metropolitan area of Toronto in Canada. I report findings of the study which examined the different ways in which Creole-English-speaking immigrant children and ESL children grapple with the register features of academic discourse, specifically, the clause structure of academic discourse. I explored clause structure, as a register feature of academic school-based writing, because it is related to choices at the clause level which, in turn, influence the entire textual organization of academic writing (Halliday, 1994). In addition, clause structure is construed in certain lexical and grammatical resources of language and the ability to use the appropriate resources may have far-reaching challenges for Creole-English speaking children acquiring register features of academic writing due to the fact that the lexical overlap found in

Creole English and Standard English often disguises fundamental grammatical differences between the creole and the standard (Craig, 1998). …

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