Challenging views about nonstandard language in education to harness the power of talk for learning
2022-04-12, 09:00–09:30 (Europe/Vienna), Room 3

Sociolinguists have argued that negative attitudes to nonstandard dialects in education will have detrimental effects on pupils’ confidence, motivation and sense of identity (e.g. Cheshire 1982; MacRuairc 2011; Snell 2013). Without in any way detracting from the importance of these issues, in this paper I add an additional consideration: the interaction between attitudes to nonstandard dialects and talk-intensive or ‘dialogic’ pedagogies.

Teachers are increasingly called upon to use dialogic teaching practices. Various approaches have emerged in the UK – e.g. Exploratory Talk (Mercer & Littleton 2007) and Dialogic Teaching (Alexander, 2020) – all of which seek to ‘exploit the power of talk to engage and shape children’s thinking and learning’ (Alexander, 2008, p. 92). Evidence for the effectiveness of dialogic approaches is accumulating (Resnick, Asterhan & Clarke, 2015), and a recent large-scale dialogic teaching intervention has demonstrated that they are particularly effective for children from the most disadvantaged backgrounds (Alexander 2020). However, the call for full participation in academically challenging classroom discourse is in tension with commonly held beliefs about language that circulate in educational policy and practice. On the one hand, it is a fundamental of dialogic pedagogy that ALL children be encouraged to participate actively in classroom discussion. On the other hand, dominant in many UK classrooms is the view that there is only one ‘correct’ way of speaking (‘Standard English’), and there is evidence that this leads to language ‘policing’ in schools (Cushing 2019), which will likely inhibit some pupils’ oral expression.

In this paper I explore questions raised by the tension between dialogic pedagogies and prevalent views about ‘standard’ and ‘nonstandard’ dialect: What consequences might teachers’ views about nonstandard dialect have for patterns of participation and processes of identification in the classroom? How do these views interact with more widely circulating ideologies about language and social class? How might sociolinguists intervene more effectively in debates about language in education in order to ensure that ALL pupils have the opportunity to exploit the power of talk for learning, including those with ‘nonstandard’ voices?


Alexander, Robin. J. (2008). Essays on pedagogy. London: Routledge.
Alexander, Robin. 2020. A dialogic teaching companion. London: Routledge.
Cheshire, Jenny. (1982). Dialect features and linguistic conflict in schools. Educational Review 34:53–67.
Cushing, Ian. 2019. The policy and policing of language in schools. Language in Society 49, 425–450.
MacRuairc, Gerry. (2011) “They’re my words – I’ll talk how I like!” Examining social class and linguistic practice among primary school children. Language and Education 25, pp. 535–559.
Mercer, Neil, & Karen Littleton. (2007). Dialogue and the development of children's thinking: A sociocultural approach. London: Routledge.
Resnick, Lauren, Crista Asterhan., & Sherice Clarke. (Eds.) (2015). Socializing intelligence through academic talk and dialogue. Washington, DC: American Educational Research Association.
Snell, Julia. 2013. Dialect, interaction and class positioning at school: From deficit to different to repertoire. Language and Education 27(2):110–28.

Panel affiliation

Young speakers, nonstandard language and language ideologies in the classroom

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