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Learning How to Write - New Approach Needed for Creole-Influenced Speakers

Dr.Vivette Milson-Whyte has been lecturer in the Faculty of Humanities and Education since 1999. Her book, Academic Writing Instruction for Creole- Influenced Students was launched last September 2015, in a ceremony organised by the Department of Language, Linguistics and Philosophy in collaboration with The University of the West Indies (UWI) Press.

Following the traditional review of the book done by Dr. Kathryn Shields Brodber, Dr. Milson-Whyte treated guests to aspects of her literacy journey, beginning in Porus through to Manchester High School, undergraduate and early graduate work at The UWI, Mona and doctoral studies at The University of Arizona. The presentation reflected her own intimate knowledge of Creole, English and French. She explained that “these engagements and others lead [her] to focus on the interconnections of language use in society, language teaching in schools, and writing at the tertiary level.”

Dr. Milson-Whyte maintains the firm belief that there has to be engagement by administrators, writing faculty and other content faculty regarding the academic writing development of Creole-influenced students. She defines Creole-influenced students, as “students who are influenced in one way or another by the country’s Creole language but who are not all Creole speaking”.

What are some of the ideas that she would like the book to generate?

1. Because Creole is the language in which most people from places like Jamaica find comfort, considerations must be given to differentiated instruction at all levels of education

2. Consideration of differentiated instruction necessitates a change in terminology [from “home” to “first” language] and “officialising” a language policy …

3. Those of us assigned the primary responsibility for teaching academic writing … could benefit from knowing our history… Knowing our history and keeping pace with developments in writing studies can help us avoid repeating the mistakes of our forebears regarding students’ linguistic and writing profiles and approaches and strategies that are relevant for various Creole-influenced students. Proficiency in language or lack thereof carries over into post-secondary education, so (introducing) one academic writing course … in a faculty for all the various types of entrants, rests on a categorical mistake.

4. Writing development … cannot be ensured … by writing faculty and staff alone. Content faculty who consider their role “reinforcement” of what is taught in academic writing courses are mistaken regarding writing development. Content faculty have to “build on”/ “expand” students’ knowledge of writing.

5. The university is about writing … If knowledge is not made in writing in a discipline, it is conveyed in and received through writing in every discipline. As much as a Jamaica may be described as an oral society, we function in systems requiring knowledge-production and demonstration of knowledge in and through writing …

6. One is never through with learning how to write. Every new situation comes with its unique requirements … For the majority of Creole-influenced students, the challenge to write in English is really frustrating because it is as if they are being whipped to wear at all levels of education the same uncomfortable garment they were first shown at the early childhood or primary school level.

7. In the university context, administrators … have to realise that they have a task to support academics in the provision of writing instruction. One of the aims of the book is to remind all of us in the university, [including] all of the individuals whose work is not actual classroom instruction, of the reasons for the development of this specific institution and other universities and how they can contribute to maintaining excellence and realising social equity.

8. Finally, … if there is no revaluing of the languages in students’ repertoire, if nothing changes in the system, and [if] the target language remains English only, then academics will have to engage in trans-creation to enable the development of many students.

In other words, “we will have to facilitate multiple levels of teaching, facilitate students’ uptake in the Creole language, and their explanations of uptake in the target language – English. This might look like a lot of work, but if we are serious that we want many students not just to succeed but to excel, then there are some sacrifices that we might have to make. In this kind of situation … sequentially arranged writing courses and writing intensive courses for all levels of a degree programme have to be considered – for continuing the development of students’ metacognitive awareness and academic writing education.”

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