On the English classroom as discourse community : an inclusive pedagogy
Sherrill, Perri Wilson
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Our use of language provides us with a means to negotiate our interactions with the world. For many new college students, learning the language necessary to participate in academic discourse is a barrier to success. The idea presented in this thesis of an inclusive pedagogy primarily bridges the gap between the discourse used in academic situations and the various discourses students bring with them to academy. Since identity cannot and should not be erased from students’ studies and work, we must conceive of ways to break down the binary opposition between students’ academic and nonacademic identities. Simply stated, teachers can include all students by inviting them to examine the experiences upon which their prior knowledge is built, thus helping them see their experience as a path to transformation and new learning. A struggle for a diverse group of learners, brought together in an English course not by common interest but by the need to fill a university requirement, is to find a common language in which each individual member of the group can thrive. So, an initial lack of shared knowledge is an obstacle to the kind of inclusive pedagogy I advocate. Classroom communities of introductory courses have the potential to engage students in the shared purposes, understandings, interests, and language of particular disciplines. Therefore, I propose introducing students to the characteristics of different discourse communities and sharing the expectations of the particular discourse inherent in a given discipline—English in this case. Demystifying the concepts of discourse and discourse communities, by reading, writing, and speaking about them, will help students understand more about the knowledge we all already have as language users and thus begin to bring together the different ways of knowing they practice.