Implementing Problem-Posing Grammar Instruction in Urban High Schools
Amanda Godley

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of Pittsburgh

Primary Discipline

Literacy and/or English/Language Education
In many discipline-specific areas of education – such as math, science and social studies – the focus has shifted from teaching students the content of the discipline to teaching disciplinary practices and engaging students in discipline-based debates and dilemmas. My proposed project will study this disciplinary, problem-posing approach as it is applied to grammar instruction in urban high school English classes. Because grammar is the description of language, problem-posing grammar instruction must be grounded in the disciplinary practices of linguistics – the study of languages. Research suggests that students would be better prepared for our increasingly global, multicultural, and multilingual economy if they were taught to think about language change, variety, and use as linguists do (New London Group, 1996; Wolfram, Adger & Christian, 1999). Researchers currently know less, however, about how such an approach could be implemented within the structure of US schools and how it would shape students’ academic writing and understandings of language.Using design-based research techniques, I will co-design problem-posing grammar instruction with English teachers from one, primarily African American urban school; describe the enactment of the instruction in various classrooms; and analyze its effect on student writing and understandings of language use. The approach to grammar instruction that will be implemented is based on four design principles distilled from my current ethnographic investigation of grammar instruction and from research in literacy studies: (1) Grammar instruction must build upon students’ linguistic resources, (2) Grammar instruction should teach students a linguistically accurate metalanguage for analyzing language beyond the sentence level, (3) Grammar instruction needs to provide students with access to Standard English and the tools needed to critique it, (4) Grammar instruction needs to be problem-posing rather than rule-driven.The study will generate a more refined theoretical understanding of the kinds of linguistics-based grammar instruction that can give marginalized students access to academic dialects and foster a critical stance towards language. It will also generate grounded theoretical understandings of the interplay between public policy, urban school ecologies, and student achievement surrounding grammar instruction. Furthermore, by studying this kind of grammar instruction in a predominantly African American urban school, the study can potentially offer a solution for narrowing the academic achievement gap between African American and Caucasian students.
About Amanda Godley

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