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TNLI: Action Research: Curriculum Implementation:  
You Gotta Know the Rules to Break the Rules: Code-Switching and Attitudes About Language


Research Question
What is the impact of contrastive analysis language instruction?

In the past, I have encountered resistance and frustration from my students, and therefore low success rates, when I have tried to teach grammar directly (using traditional worksheet and sentence diagramming) or indirectly (using grammar in context and the writing process.) As long Standard English is required for state exams and college entrance (therefore economic success), Standard English grammar must be taught in schools and is essential to closing the achievement gap.  If traditional methods of teaching grammar are not working, then teachers have an obligation to seek our new ways to meet their students’ needs.


  • Code-switching is an effective method of teaching Standard English grammar.
  • Code-switching is more effective with students who have significant learning barriers (ELL, Special education students, students reading below grade level).
  • Code-switching seems to increase engagement and reduce students’ resistance to learning Standard English.
  • However, code-switching does not necessarily change underlying attitudes about language and identity in positive ways, or change attitudes at all.  There is the potential to reinforce negative stereotypes.

Other Concerns

  • While there is much theoretical work on code-switching and contrastive analysis, there are few practical and accessible resources available for teachers to use (reproducibles, worksheets, unit and lesson plans).
  • Creating these materials from scratch by doing complex linguistic analysis of one’s own students’ work (as many theorists suggest) would be prohibitively time-consuming for most busy urban teachers.
  • Without adequate training, teachers who themselves primarily speak Standard English will likely have a hard time creating and implementing effective code-switching materials into their classrooms, even if they want to.

Policy Recommendations

  1. Contrastive analysis language instruction is an effective method of teaching Standard English grammar, particularly for those students who seem resistant to learning standard English or have learning obstacles, (ELL, Special education, low reading levels, etc.)
  2. Unit plans, lesson plans and reproducibles that are specifically created with home dialects in mind should be accessible and readily available to busy urban teachers in order to ensure the success of contrastive analysis language instruction.
  3. English teachers should be required to take a basic course in linguistics during their teacher preparation programs and as a part of ongoing professional development in order to be conscious of, and responsive to, their students’ many home dialects.  Such a course would prepare teachers to identify and isolate structural and syntactical differences between dialects and create materials that are targeted to their students.
  4. Teachers must engage in open dialogue about the politics of language with their students and encourage critical thinking skills.  Any attempt to teach contrastive analysis must be thoughtful and context-driven.  The success depends on a foundation of mutual respect, positive rapport, and trust between teacher and students.

Erin McCrossan Cassar

Research Focus:
Curriculum Implementation

Eximius College Preparatory Academy

TNLI Affiliate:
New York City

If you would like to learn more about Teachers Network Leadership Institute, please e-mail Kimberly Johnson for more information.



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