The Role and Relevance of Linguistic Analysis to Teacher Preparation

Long Peng (State University of New York at Oswego)

The question of how linguistics should be taught implies at least two separate questions that should be addressed: a) what aspects of linguistics should be taught and b) how linguistics should be taught. When we look at the existing program requirements and linguistics textbooks, we might have the impression that the answers to the question in a) have been settled. I would like to suggest in this presentation that the answer to this question is far from settled, especially when we consider the role and relevance of linguistics to non-linguistics audience. This presentation considers the question in a) in relation to those who are prepared to be teachers in K-12 settings and suggests that the development of teacher candidates' ability to analyze language-based data and solve language-based problems in schools should form the core of their linguistic training.

Review of teacher preparation programs in the US suggests that linguistics training is not a significant part of program requirements. This is true not just of education programs that prepare students to teach non-language-related subjects such as math, science, social studies, etc. but also true of educational programs that prepare students to teach language-related subjects such as English Language Arts, English as a second language, and foreign languages such as Spanish, French, German, etc. Education programs that prepare students to teach non-language related subjects in general do not require linguistic training. Those that do, typically those programs that prepare students to teach language-related subjects, generally require on average one to three courses in linguistics. These courses emphasize the acquisition of linguistic knowledge, knowledge which is often limited to syntactic, sociolinguistic and psycholinguistic knowledge. The development of students' linguistic analytical abilities is not emphasized. A similar trend can be observed from the linguistics textbooks designed for and used with teachers. These textbooks stress knowledge transmission rather than the development of abilities to analyze language-based data and solve language-based problems in schools.

This bias towards knowledge transmission contrasts with the types of language-based problems teachers increasingly face in schools. For instance, some studies on math education show that part of the difficulty K-12 students have with math problems lie in their understanding of the language-based instructions to the math problems, not the math itself. This type of problem applies in particular to the growing number of students that do not speak English as their native language or who do not speak the "standard" American English. Problems like these place demand on teachers' ability to identify the problems their students face, to analyze these problems to determine the proper cause (for instance, is the problem math itself or understanding math instruction? If latter, is it the lack of vocabulary, understanding the meanings of math terminology, or understanding the sentence or discourse meaning?) and to come up with solutions. These language-based problems highlight the need to develop teacher candidates' ability to analyze language-based data and solve language-based problems in schools.

In this presentation, I review the focus of linguistics instruction seen from education programs and linguistics textbooks. This review reveals a bias towards knowledge transmission rather than the development of the crucial skills teachers need to identify and analyze and solve language-based problems. I identify the types of language-based problems teachers increasingly face and argue that the development of students' linguistic analysis abilities should form the core of linguistic training geared towards teacher candidates. I articulate what constitutes "the linguistic analysis ability" and discuss the problems and exercises that can be used to develop teacher candidates' abilities in these areas.