Academic discourse is the pattern of speech and writing that exists in academic settings. In the American school system, academic discourse is driven by discussion-based instruction that expects students to ask clarification questions, build on each other’s ideas, and above all, demonstrate evidenced-based reasoning. Academic discourse understood as such calls for cognitive and language demands that risk reinforcing the cultural-linguistic divide in the standards-based classroom. Academic discourse poses critical challenges for language minorities who are required to perform academic tasks while struggling to learn basic conversational English skills. As a literacy approach, storytelling is considered an effective ESL strategy to build students’ literacy capacities by encouraging students to connect their prior knowledge to the larger world of texts. Focusing on the social aspects of human experience, storytelling features the use of personal narrative to create a common language that invites every learner to share and participate. However, under the current United States education paradigm, while students were encouraged to make personal connections to what they learned, personal testimonies were often dismissed as an invalid form of knowledge. In this paper, I discuss how Bahktin’s dialogism – by conceptualizing language as dialogic utterances - incorporates the vision of diversity as a resource for learning and signals storytelling as a template to explore the conflicting interests and complex interaction in contemporary life. His pedagogical approach to communication and literacy results in a new form of academic discourse that is simultaneously enriching and empowering. Implications of his theory for classroom practices are discussed.
Ching Ching Lin, Touro College, USA
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