Equity & Access Teaching Writing

Honoring Dialect and Culture: Pathways to Student Success on High-Stakes Writing Assessments


As teachers we often struggle to find ways to honor our students’ home dialects while still preparing them to take high-stakes writing tests requiring the use of Standard English. In this piece, the author describes her three-pronged approach within a Writing Strategies class for students who had failed the state test. Students developed linguistic and mechanical fluency by speaking and writing about their interests (e.g., hunting), drawing upon their Appalachian English dialect, and by learning how to recognize audience-appropriate situations for employing both Standard English and their own dialect. Lots of student writing samples, coupled with the author's own rationales and experience, make this a useful piece for workshops, study groups, or professional development focused on culturally relevant practices within a high-stakes testing environment.



The word lists also gave me an idea for the next writing prompt, an invented scenario: “The County Board of Supervisors is considering a ban on hunting because of residential growth within the county limits. Do you agree that hunting should be banned? Why or why not?” The students immediately voiced their opinions with a chorus of, “They ain’t stoppin’ me from huntin’!” I reminded them that the scenario was not real and urged them to write a list of all the ideas going through their minds. “Put that on the paper!” was my response to every comment. Bucky wrote the following verbs on his brainstorm list in AE: There is too many deer; There be too many accidents; Hunting season aint but only 4–6 months out of the year except coyote, skunk. I wrote out the standard verb forms on his brainstorm list, and he revised the verbs as he was drafting.