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Book Reviews

We Do Language: English Language Variation in the Secondary English Classroom (Teachers College Press, 2014)

“In We Do Language: English Language Variation in the Secondary Classroom, [the authors] have penned a volume that lays out in an accessible, pragmatic, and adaptable way the thorny problem space that secondary English/language arts professionals face as they do their jobs, with intentionality and dedication, in classrooms that are multiply defined—by socio-economic status, culture, gender, sexuality, ideology, and other vectors of the human condition and experience. Drawing together a richly articulated and manageable array of theoretical principles and pedagogical frameworks about language, literacy, and culture, Charity Hudley and Mallinson connect these principles and frameworks to action. We Do Language is grounded, thereby, in specific examples of the work that teachers and students are actually doing, exemplifying, as their title suggests, that the primary goal of their research has been to investigate what success looks like when educators and students actually ‘do language.’” 

From the Foreword by Dr. Jacqueline Jones Royster, Ivan Allen Chair in Liberal Arts and Technology and Dean, Ivan Allen College of Liberal Arts at Georgia Institute of Technology

“Full of advice and support for walking hand-in-hand with students into imaginative ways of understanding the realities of language variation, this book is pure joy for teachers and college counselors. Even more important is the guarantee that when these educators embrace the humanity and philosophy so touchingly illustrated by the authors, the intrigue of thinking deeply about speaking, writing, and reading is sure to follow for students.”

—Back cover endorsement by Dr. Shirley Brice Heath, Margery Bailey Professor of English & Dramatic Literature and Professor of Linguistics, Emerita, Stanford University

We Do Language is refreshingly different, as now educators are shown how to value their own language variation and draw on their own linguistic identities as teaching resources. This work is long overdue and much needed. African American English is here to stay, and this book affirms and supports educators and African American students, their language, and their culture. I can’t thank the authors enough for writing this powerfully thoughtful, thought provoking, and critical analysis of language variation.

—Back cover endorsement by Dr. Donna Ford, Harvie Branscomb Distinguished Professor of Special Education & Teaching and Learning, Peabody College of Education, Vanderbilt University

“”This handsome little book tackles the problem of how to help students become sociolinguistically aware citizens. Chapters are interspersed with vignettes (for example, a teacher describes a particularly successful way of addressing a classroom problem) that appeal to the target audience—anyone who has a private or professional interest in best practices for teaching children. The book is the result of many years of fieldwork and workshops conducted with educators throughout the US, and is supplemented by a website with additional materials for teachers….The crucial aspect for the perspective taken by the authors, of course, is that some students come to school better equipped with the knowledge of the particular micro-culture of mainstream schools than others. Rules of conduct in school are closer to those of mainstream middle class culture than to those of working class or ethnic minority cultures. Simplifying somewhat, it is clear that students who speak ‘standardized’ English at home have less of a transition to make when they enter school than students who don’t, and who basically have to first learn this form of English as a new dialect. It is for this reason that We Do Language attempts to show how ‘doing language’ implies that we engage with language, culture, and literature all at the same time.”

 —From a 2014 book review by Ad Backus, Professor of Culture Studies at Tilburg University (Netherlands), in Teachers College Record

“Building on 50 years of linguistic and sociolinguistic research into the systematic nature of English varieties, Dr. Anne H. Charity Hudley and Dr. Christine L. Mallinson further the important next step of exploring how these linguistic differences play out in classrooms and schools with academic and social consequences for students. As the work of constructing culturally and linguistically sustaining classrooms continues, teachers will need additional detail for how to build a linguistically informed approach into specific instructional units. This text will support teacher educators, teacher leaders and teachers themselves in advancing that work.”

 —From a 2014 book review by Mike Metz, Doctoral Candidate in Curriculum and Teacher Education at Stanford University, in Pedagogies: An International Journal

“In their new book We Do Language: English Language Variation in the Secondary English Classroom, Anne Harper Charity Hudley and Christine Mallinson encourage educators to take a more critical approach to understanding the ways that students employ non-standardized English language varieties. Although the primary audience for the book is secondary English teachers, anyone who teaches in today’s ever-changing linguistically diverse classrooms will find it a beneficial resource.”

 —Review by Kamilah Cummings, Writing Instructor at DePaul University

“The book is a good mix of language variation research and practice at the secondary education level. The authors focus on language variation in society and make a strong point that ‘language differences are not language deficiencies.’ While the book primarily focuses on language variation and communication in a secondary English classroom, it has implications for educators K-16. What is the relationship between language variation and our beliefs about how we teach and how students learn? The answer to this question lies in the book’s five chapters. It’s an easy read of materials that are based on sound research. It’s a book that every teacher education program should ask students to read.”

—Review by Lechuza on


Understanding English Language Variation in U.S. Schools (Teachers College Press, 2011)

“[A]n academic study relevant to anyone interested in the way children (and adults) process language, as well as to classroom teachers looking for educational strategies to better serve their students. Summing Up: Recommended. All readership levels.”

From Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries

“Language is an essential component of a student’s culture and identity. …This useful and incisive book will help educators deal with the growing ethnic, cultural, and linguistic diversity within the United States and the schools.”

From the Series Foreword by Dr. James A. Banks, the Kerry and Linda Killinger Endowed Chair in Diversity Studies and Director of the Center for Multicultural Education at the University of Washington

“Throughout this book, there is a regular alternation between description of language and the insightful application of this knowledge to the classroom. One never loses sight of the primary goal: to lead students to a mastery of reading and writing of standardized English.”

—From the Foreword by Dr. William Labov, the John and Margaret Fassitt Professor of Linguistics and Director of the Linguistics Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania

“A landmark book…It guides linguists and educators as we all work to apply our knowledge on behalf of those for whom it matters most: students.”

—From the Afterword by Dr. Walt Wolfram, the William C. Friday Distinguished Professor of English Linguistics at North Carolina State University

“In the ongoing debate about language we typically hear arguments about what students say and/or how they say it. Finally, a volume that takes on the ‘elephant in the parlor’ — WHO is saying it. By laying bare the complicated issues of race, culture, region, and ethnicity, Charity Hudley and Mallinson provide a scholarly significant and …practically relevant text for scholars and practitioners alike.”

—Back cover endorsement by Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, the Kellner Family Chair in Urban Education and Professor of Curriculum and Instruction and Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

“An invaluable guide for teachers, graduate students, and all lovers of language.  The authors provide a comprehensive and fascinating account of Southern and African American English, showing how it differs from standardized English, how those differences affect children in the classroom, and how teachers can use these insights to better serve their students.”

—Back cover endorsement by Dr. Deborah Tannen, University Professor and Professor of Linguistics at Georgetown University

“Language variation in English is one of the more misunderstood areas in education. The authors do an exceptional job of demystifying the topic by providing useful background material and practical insights. This volume is destined to become a foundational classic for teacher preparation and the ongoing professional development of educators.”

—Back cover endorsement by Dr. Terrence G. Wiley, President of the Center for Applied Linguistics and Professor of Education and Linguistics Emeritus, Arizona State University

“As is evident in this text, these scholars are both well-informed sociolinguistic scholars with a passion for improving the educational welfare of all students. This accessible, well-written, and informative book takes another step in the struggle to get linguistic knowledge into the hands of linguistic gatekeepers. Teachers, counselors, and other practitioners who work with linguistically marginalized youth will certainly find this book helpful, a relief even, to those who feel under-equipped to handle these complicated linguistic and cultural issues.”

—Endorsement by Dr. H. Samy Alim, Associate Professor in the School of Education, the Department of Linguistics, and the Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity at Stanford University

“[The account shared by the pre-service teacher who read this book shows that]… some of the material in this text has the ability to make an immediate impact on classroom practitioners. This impact is not made through a novel theoretical approach or the presentation of classroom based empirical evidence, but rather through the authors’ clear, articulate focus—language is contextually bound, and educators need to understand the complexities and importance of multiple language varieties. Given this focus, Understanding English Language Variation in U.S. Schools is a helpful resource for classroom teachersespecially those with limited psycholinguistic trainingand other educators who work with linguistically diverse youth…The pre-service teacher whose practice was immediately impacted by this book was able to better understand grammatical features of the language her students were using, but more importantly, she was, perhaps, able to begin to see the cultural strengths that youth bring with them to school and respect them as a part of their learning as students and her learning as a teacher—something that all of us who care about teaching need to do. If language can be seen as a portal into youths’ larger cultural realities and strengths, it holds tremendous potential as a way to build relationships and enhance their opportunities for success at school. This book embodies this potential and its message should be a part of teacher education and broader education reform for all of us.”

—From a 2011 book review by Dr. Noah E. Borrero, Assistant Professor of Teacher Education at the University of San Francisco, in Teachers College Record


“Charity Hudley and Mallinson argue convincingly that the success of students in increasingly diverse U.S. schools depends on teachers’ being linguistically informed. When teachers know how language works, their students can use home dialects with safety and acceptance while also learning the benefits of and gaining competence in what is usually called Standard English. … This book’s descriptions, explanations, and teaching suggestions are invaluable to teachers.”

—From a 2011 book review by Dr. Donald J. Richgels, Presidential Research Professor of Literacy Education at Northern Illinois University, in The Journal of Educational Research


“[T]his book is an impressive illustration of productive synergy between theory and practice. The authors have explored complex intersections of language, culture and schooling in a way that addresses with clarity those language-based concerns that have often served as barriers to affirming students’ self-worth and ability to learn. Although US-based language varieties are the focus of this book, the basic strategy of extracting linguistic and cultural details to assist teachers in more precisely guiding students toward proficiency in standardized varieties necessary for academic success can be replicated in many global learning communities.”

—From a 2011 book review by Catrice Barrett, PhD Student in the Department of Educational Linguistics, The University of Pennsylvania, in Language and Education

“As a teacher, many of Charity Hudley and Mallinson’s strategies can be put to use directly with the students. When I edit student papers, I can select one or two issues of language to address at a time (p.30). Now I understand reasons many students spell the way they do. I also learned strategies to address their errors and hope to positively approach students with corrections in the future. I will understand a student’s comment may not reflect confrontation, but instead, reflect his learned tone of voice (p.99). Specifically, the section on pitch, intonation and volume related to African American students (p.97 -100) would enlighten anyone who must discipline or control students. I must be careful to use assessments that truly measure a student’s mastery of material rather than ones that may be evaluating his cultural background (p. 118). By opening teacher’s eyes to the frequent misunderstandings in the classroom and the opportunities to include bias-free lessons and assessments, students with various backgrounds will show their true learning and school success. A must read for classroom teachers! Used as a staff development tool, the book would most benefit elementary and middle school teachers with blended school populations. Great read for teachers and anyone like child advocates who work with children.”

—Reviews on Goodreads and by Lynn Moore, MAEd, 30-year classroom teacher and 2-year community college educator with licensures in K-5, 6-8, 9-10, and Academically Gifted Ed; taught all subjects in grades K, 3, 4, 5, remedial reading in grades 1-5, Academically Gifted reading and math in 6, 7, 8, and World History and Reading in 9 and 10; also taught adults earning licensure in Academically Gifted Ed

“For a book that combines decades of research on linguistics and education, it’s refreshingly slim and easy-to-read. Throughout the book, the authors offer the reader, especially educational practioners, strategies for managing language diversity in the classroom. Additionally, there is a take-home message at the end of each chapter to summarize the most important points.”

—From a 2010 book review by Cara Shousterman, New York University Department of Linguistics, on Word. The Online Journal on African American English

“To be effective and ethical educators, we must learn the languages of our students. We must be able to identify their language varieties in order to honor their identities.  Understanding English Language Variation in U.S. Schools teaches us that language variation is more than an intellectual or a pedagogical concern: it is a matter of social justice.”
—From a review by Baltimore educators Natalie Froman and Akeesha Kelly for Teachers College Press

“What is being done to foster inclusion and diversity in U.S. schools with regards to pedagogy and curriculum? … Y’all gotta understand, this book right here was an answer to prayer from above!”
—Watch the full YouTube video review by The Black Curriculum 

Understanding English Language Variation in U.S. Schools
is a recommended reference for:

You can also listen to our podcast, “‘It’s a Language Variation, and It Has Its Own Structure,” in which you will hear the voices of 14 pre- and in-service teachers talking about what they have learned about language variation in the classroom and how it has positively impacted their teaching and helped them communicate with their students.

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