Draft of Teaching Materials and Rationale

The following is the first draft of my teaching materials. At this point, I am just starting to define the final assignment, though within the assignment, I begin to outline intermediary assignments my students will complete.

What you will make

You and your class will be creating a dictionary of American language in 2016. We will create this dictionary collectively, with each student contributing two entries into the dictionary. Then, each group will be assigned a specific job in order to compile the finished product and get it ready for printing. These group jobs will include curating (selecting the final words that will go into the dictionary) or quality control, organization, editing, formatting, writing the introduction, and designing the cover. Our dictionary will be printed, and each student will get a copy of the dictionary.

What you will learn

This project is an opportunity to:

  • Identify and emulate the specific “moves” that exist in dictionary entries, as a genre
  • Explain the meanings of words and use examples to illustrate how a specific word is used in different contexts
  • Interview someone from a different linguistic community than your own
  • Work with your class to identify criteria for rhetorical and stylistic choices and use these criteria to arrive at decisions collectively
  • Work with a team to complete a portion of a large project, and together create a finished, publishable product

You will also get an opportunity to observe how language is used in a variety of contexts, and by a variety of different speakers. In doing so, you will develop an understanding of the complexity of American English in 2016. We will use this project as a way to further explore larger class themes such as the connection between language and diversity, and language and identity.

One of the choices for the final essay for this class will invite you to draw upon your learning in this assignment by asking: what is Standard English, and is it important for the United States to have a “standard” version of English? Why or why not?

Steps along the way to creating our class dictionary:

The final dictionary will result from the culmination of an ongoing study of language over the first half of the semester. This study of language will include the following intermediary assignments.

Language Comparison Study

First, you will be studying how language is used in a variety of contexts to start to develop a sense of how speakers change their language based on a number of different factors. We will explore this through the language comparison assignment, for which you will keep a language journal and observe and record how language is used in at least two different contexts. This will culminate in our first brief essay of the semester where you compare and contrast these two uses of language. This will help us to start to understand and identify different registers of language and to link language use to elements like audience, purpose, context, and speaker.

Class Activity: Dictionary as Genre

As a class, we will perform a genre analysis of different dictionaries, looking for elements that all dictionaries tend to include, and those that only some dictionaries include. As a class, we will determine which features we want to be sure to include in all of our dictionary entries.

First Dictionary Entry: A Word from Your Linguistic Community

Next, you will select a word that you use regularly that is not part of Standard English. You will complete your first dictionary entry by defining this word in Standard English and providing several examples of how the word is used in its appropriate context. You will make sure that your dictionary entry includes all of the elements that we, as a class, decided we would include in our dictionary entries.

Second Dictionary Entry: A Word from a Different Linguistic Community

Once you have completed one entry based on a word you know well, you are now ready for the next challenge! You must find and define a word from a linguistic community other than your own. In order to do this, you will engage in a mini ethnographic study. You will identify the speaker you would like to work with and ask to interview them. You may either fist select the speaker and then work with the speaker to select the right word to use for your entry, or you may first select the word you want to explore and then find a speaker who regularly uses that word. As a class, we will generate a list of interview questions to ask your speaker. After your interview, you will complete your dictionary entry, including information about the linguistic community that most frequently uses this word.

Creating the dictionary

Once we have all of our entries (two contributions per person), you will then be broken up into groups based on your interests. Your group will have a specific job as we design the dictionary and get it ready to go to printing. The jobs include the following:

                Curating/Quality Control Experts:

As a class, we will decide: do all of the entries make it into the dictionary, or will we use a set of selection criteria to decide which ones make it into the dictionary? We will either design the selection criteria or the quality expectations as a class. Your group’s job will then be to either decide which entries meet the selection criteria or, if we are going to include all of them, make sure each entry meets the specifications we decided upon as a class. You will write letters to each student in your class letting them know about any revisions that need to be made before their entry or entries can be selected.

                Organization/Arrangement Experts:

Once the final list of entries has been determined, your group will figure out what order is best for our dictionary. How should the words be organized to tell the most interesting story about American Language in 2016. Dictionaries tend to be alphabetical, but anthologies tend to be grouped around themes. Your group will present two options for how we could organize the dictionary. With each option, you will provide a rationale and the pros and cons of that option. The class will then vote, or if your group advocates for one option, we might be persuaded to select the option you think is best.

Formatting Experts:

Your group will take everyone’s individual documents and will compile them into one document. You will determine the appropriate fonts, headings, and margins. You will share your draft with the class and get feedback from the other students, who may make requests that you change certain elements of the format.

Editing Experts:

Your group’s job is to make sure that a final comb-through is done of each entry and that all entries adhere to the grammar and punctuation guidelines of Standard English (except inside direct quotes). You are welcome to utilize outside resources to ensure that your editing job is professionally completed. This can include professor office hours, use of the Writing Lab or use of other resources.

Introduction Writers:

Your job is to write a 2-4 page introduction for our dictionary, explaining the project we undertook, and the outcome. In your introduction, you will explain the organization of the dictionary and why we decided to organize it as we did. You will also offer an overview and brief discussion about the variety of linguistic communities represented in the book.

Cover Designers:

Your job is to design the cover that best represents our dictionary. You will present two different possible cover designs to the class. Each cover design will be accompanied by a brief written explanation that discusses all of the artistic choices made in the cover and why they were made. The class will then vote on the cover they prefer, or ask you to make modifications and present us with a third option. If you would like the cover printed in color, you will need to offer a rationale that justifies the price difference between printing in color and printing in black and white.

Back Cover Designers:

You will study the back covers of other books and decide what you would like to include on the back of our dictionary. This may include: a summary of the dictionary and an explanation of the intended audience for the dictionary. It may also include quotes from others who have read the dictionary. You will decide! You will present your back cover and explain the choices you made to the class. You will then revise your back cover based on the feedback of the class.

Reflective Essay

Once we have completed our dictionary and it has been published, you will write an essay reflecting on your experience. Your essay may address your thoughts, frustrations, and challenges along the way; your experience working with your teammates; your assessment of the final product; and a discussion of what you learned from completing this project.

Brief Rationale

I am designing this assignment for Integrated Communications 100, a developmental level reading and writing course taught at Harold Washington College. One of the themes of the course asks students to explore the relationship between language and identity.

Through the above assignment, I am drawing on critical pedagogy by asking students to use their expertise to contribute to a collective project. I am also drawing on genre studies by including a genre analysis assignment. Last, I’m drawing a bit on ethnography studies by asking them to include an interview and dictionary entry based on a word from a linguistic community other than their own.


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