Reading and Writing

, Volume 30, Issue 9, pp 2009–2038 | Cite as

The effects of dialect awareness instruction on nonmainstream American English speakers

  • Lakeisha Johnson
  • Nicole Patton Terry
  • Carol McDonald Connor
  • Shurita Thomas-Tate


The achievement gaps between poor and more affluent students are persistent and chronic, as many students living in poverty are also members of more isolated communities where dialects such as African American English and Southern Vernacular English are often spoken. Non-mainstream dialect use is associated with weaker literacy achievement. The principal aims of the two experiments described in this paper were to examine whether second through fourth graders, who use home English in contexts where more formal school English is expected, can be taught to dialect shift between home and school English depending on context; and whether this leads to stronger writing and literacy outcomes. The results of two randomized controlled trials with students within classrooms randomly assigned to DAWS (Dialect Awareness, a program to explicitly teach dialect shifting), editing instruction, or a business as usual group revealed (1) that DAWS was more effective in promoting dialect shifting than instruction that did not explicitly contrast home and school English; and (2) that students in both studies who participated in DAWS were significantly more likely to use school English in contexts where it was expected on proximal and distal outcomes including narrative writing, morphosyntactic awareness, and reading comprehension. Implications for theory and practice are discussed.


African American English Southern Vernacular English Instruction Literacy Writing Reading 



We would like to thank the entire Reading for Understanding project team, Jennifer Dombek (project coordinator), as well as the children, parents, teachers, and school administrators without whom this research would not have been possible. Funding was provided by the U.S. Department of Education, Institute for Education Sciences, Florid a State University Research and Development Center for Pre-K to 5th Grade Student Comprehension: Examining Effective Intervention Targets, Longitudinal Intensity, and Scaling Factors, Grant #R305F100027. The opinions expressed are ours and do not represent views of the funding agencies.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Educational Psychology and Special Education, Urban Child Study CenterGeorgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA
  2. 2.University of California-IrvineIrvineUSA
  3. 3.Missouri State UniversitySpringfieldUSA

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