As a teacher of linguistics, I strive to show my students the power of language through community-based learning. I center student goals around three interrelated components: engaged citizenry, scientific literacy, and problem solving. By focusing on these components, students leave with a foundational knowledge of linguistics and the ability to interact with its social intricacies. I enact these goals through active learning in an inclusive community built on shared norms, targeted student support, and flexibility.
As engaged citizens, students should leave linguistics courses with an understanding of how languages are equally systematic and socially constructed. I use inductive and active learning for students to understand the systematic nature of language across diverse voices and identities. For example, in an upper-division linguistics course, I provide students with spoken language data from a corpus of African American English and we collaboratively analyze patterns found in the data. As students recognize patterns, they develop an understanding of language structure, and begin to formulate strategies for linguistic analysis. Understanding language structure thus emerges from their experience with analyzing diverse language data, allowing them to recognize that all languages are structured and rule governed. Later, we have discussions around language attitudes, connecting ideology to what we have learned about language structure over the term. Through a connection of the analytic and the social, students gain heightened awareness of language diversity and are better equipped to challenge oppressive narratives about language in society.
Scientific literacy and problem-solving skills are deeply intertwined facets of learning that require inclusive classrooms to develop skills. To build community, I emphasize ‘asking questions’ as part of the process of scientific inquiry and demystifying the expert. This allows students to see that questions are not only based in confusion, but in curiosity, expansion, and their current knowledge—something I model for students throughout the term. I believe this breaks down the barriers for students; one student (Fall 20) remarked “[Kaylynn] made me feel safe to ask questions…”. In introductory courses, I build student confidence with opportunities to develop their problem-solving skills by scaffolding linguistic analysis problems; one student said, “This class made me think and use my problem-solving skills…getting it correct would feel very rewarding” (Fall 20). From there, I help students develop the skills to find answers, ranging from evaluating research to generating science. For example, in a 300-level course, I helped guide students through an original experiment through different stages, including the research question(s), the experimental protocol, data collection, and analysis (see Vaughn, Kendall, & Gunter 2018).
Building inclusive classrooms requires attention to the community needs as well as the individual’s. What I have learned about achieving this balance is that flexibility and targeted support are key. I learned the necessity of these two components before the pandemic, but they have only been solidified as more students are faced with unprecedented challenges. Adapting in response to students allows me to meet students where they are while still providing an engaging and enriching learning experience.