Foundations and Assessment of Education/Edition 1/Foundations Table of Contents/Chapter 4/4.6.2

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Code Switching in the Classroom[edit]

Learning Targets:

1. The student will be able to define “code-switching” in terms of definition and educational practice.

2. The student will be able to identify the main points of the code-switching debate.

3. The student will be able to identify the difference between the correctionist and the contrastivist approach.

4. The student will be able to identify how to as a teacher teach code-switching effectively to a group of students.

What is Code Switching?

If you search for the word “code switching” at you will find a variety of sources offering definitions for the term. You will find most commonly as you search through the links available that “code switching” is a linguistics term referring to the ability to switch between different dialects and/or languages by a person during conversation. So that’s the “textbook” definition as we call it, but as future educators you need more than just the “textbook” definition, what you need to know is what code-switching means in regards to education; and why you should choose to implement, or not implement, it as a tool in your future classrooms. So let’s dig a little deeper and go beyond standard definitions and into how code-switching will affect you.

Code Switching from an Educational perspective

From an educator’s perspective, code-switching isn’t just switching back and forth mid-sentence between two different languages or dialects; in an educational context it is much more than that. Code-switching in the classroom means the use by teacher of different forms of informal and formal English to teach students in ways that are easier for them to understand and possibly to help students differentiate between formal and informal English more effectively. (Kasperczyk)

"Teaching students to code-switch is a student-centered approach to learning." (Coffee).

The Code-Switching Debate

To introduce and help you understand the code-switching debate we’re going to talk a little about the Ebonics debate. This will show us a recent example of one of the types of arguments that are going on in today's schools related to code-switching. The Ebonics debate encompassed the argument over if the way of speaking used primarily by African Americans, formally named “Ebonics”, should be taught and used in schools or if it should be banned. The debate was at it’s peak in the 1990’s when a number of lawsuits were brought to court concerning the use of Ebonics in the classroom. On one side it was being argued that Ebonics should not be taught in English classrooms because it hinders the learning of the children who use it. Opponents of Ebonics cited that language skills are directly related to success in academics and African American students are behind in terms of academic success. (Mufwene, 1999). On the other side of the debate, proponents of the use of Ebonics claimed that the validity of Ebonics should be acknowledged and used to assist the teaching of Standard English. (Mufwene, 1999).

If we compare the Ebonics debate to the code-switching debate we basically see the same things. The debate over code switching includes whether or not different dialects and/or slang should be used in the classroom to help teach children more effectively. The code switching debate not only includes the debate over inclusion of the African-American dialect it also includes arguments from Creole speakers, Hispanic-American, Native American, Asian-American, and virtually any other micro-culture that can be found clustered in areas of our country. (De Fina, 2007)

The United States of America is one of the most diverse nations on earth. Countless races, cultures, communities and languages can be found from border to border. This diversity affects our interactions with one another in every aspect of our lives. Though what is often overlooked is how our education is greatly affected by language diversity, especially in our elementary school classrooms. (Sert,2005)

Think back to your elementary school days, were you good at English, or was it one of your more difficult subjects? Now imagine that your teacher had taught you Standard English while speaking to you in the dialect that you were most familiar with, or in the way of speaking that you were immersed in when you were at home. Would this have helped you learn or would it have impaired you from fully learning Standard English? What if your teacher had switched back and forth between using Standard English and the most common dialect of the area you lived to teach you other subjects? Would this have affected your learning in any way? Two big questions facing educators today are will it help my students to code-switch or will it hurt them? And should students who are bi-lingual or use a dialect such as Ebonics or Creole be taught Standard English in the same way it is taught to second language learners? Current research points to both code-switching and teaching Standard English to certain children in the way of second language learners, as being much more helpful to students than harmful. (De Fina, 2007)

Effective Code-Switching Classroom Practices:

1. Simulate a job interview with two applicants, one using informal English and slang and the other using formal English. This activity will help students learn how to use language in the correct context and the type of language used has a strong impact on others perceptions of that person (McCoy, 2006).

2. Have students translate conversations or sentences from informal English to standard English. (McCoy, 2006)

3. Give students examples of different situations in which they may encounter a choice between using formal English and informal English. Show them that when speaking to different people, and that in different situations, one use of the language is more appropriate than the other.

4. Have your students give a tribute speech on someone in their home community in the dialect or language in which the person would speak. This helps the student to develop pride in their culture and language history.

I code-switch in my classroom, now how can I teach my students to code-switch effectively?

There are two approaches to teaching code-switching the correctionist approach and the contrastivist approach (Coffee). The correctionist approach can be seen when the teacher decides that a student’s home speech is incorrect, or is bad English and needs to be corrected to proper English. The teacher then tries to change the student’s speech in every situation, formal or informal to Standard English. This approach tries to abolish all other forms of English and establish Standard English as the student’s only form of communication.(Coffee) The contrastivist approach can be seen when the teacher acknowledges that the English language comes in many different varieties and a student’s home language doesn’t need to be abolished. The teacher then begins to teach the student how to effectively switch between their home language and Standard English. (Coffee). Current research suggests that the contrastivist approach is much more helpful to a students learning than the correctionist approach. By using the contrastivist approach students are not made to feel less intelligent because the dialect they use is not Standard English. Students are made to feel included and are generally more willing to learn when this approach is use. Teaching students to code-switch is a student-centered approach to learning. (Coffee).


So it is up to you as teachers whether or not you feel that code-switching in your classroom will be helpful or harmful. I would suggest, if you are considering using it, that you research ways to do it effectively more in depth, and discuss its use with other teachers at your school or perhaps your school principal. Each school and each classroom will be different so make sure you are familiar with the positives and negatives of what you are doing before you try anything new. Code-switching can be a helpful tool in my opinion as long as it is used correctly and appropriately.


Quiz Yourself[edit]

1. Code-Switching as it relates to an educational perspective is best defined as which of the following?

A. The use of formal English by a teacher to teach different informal forms of English to students.

B. Use by the teacher of Standard English to teach students the correct way of speaking.

C. Switching between different languages or dialects in conversation.

D. Use by the teacher of different forms of English, formal and informal, to help students learn more effectively.

2. Which of the following might be argued by an opponent for the use of code-switching in the classroom?

A. "By teaching students how and when it is appropriate to code-switch they are learning more effectively."

B. "A student's home dialect should be used to help teach them Standard English."

C. "Students using their home dialect in the classroom are being hindered by the constructs of their dialects and thus are not learning how to use Standard English effectively. "

D. "Students who are not made to forget their home dialect enjoy learning more than those who are. "

3. According to the "contrastivist" approach,

A. A student's home dialect should be forgotten and not used in the classroom.

B. The teacher acknowledges that the English language comes in many varieties and uses an integrated approach to teaching students English.

C. The teacher should try to change the way students speak in all situations, formal and informal.

D. The teacher decides that the student's home dialect is bad English.

4. Which of the following would NOT be a good way to teach your students how to code switch?

A. Placing students in groups and assigning each group an unfamiliar dialect that they must use for the day.

B. Write a sentence on the board in informal English and have the students translate it to formal English.

C. Give the students a hypothetical situation in which they are interviewing the President of the United States and ask them to come up with two interview questions in the form of English they think would be best to use in that situation.

D. Have students make up two conversations, one between the student and a family member, and the other between the student and a peer, then have them compare and contrast the dialect differences.


1. Coffey, Heather. Code Switching. Retrieved February 10, 2009, from Learn NC Web site:

2. De Fina, Anna (2007).Code switching and the construction of ethnic identity in a community of practice.. Language in Society. 36, 371-392.

3. Kaplan-Moss , Jacob (January 13, 2009). Descriptivists and Prescriptivists. Retrieved February 10, 2009, Web site:

4. Kasperczyk, Lesley-Anne. Implementing Code-Switching in the Classroom. Retrieved February 10, 2009, Web site:

5. Mufwene, Salikoko (1999). EBONICS AND STANDARD ENGLISH IN THE CLASSROOM: SOME ISSUES. Georgetown University Round Table on Languages and Linguistics., Retrieved February 7, 2009, from

6. McCoy, William. (2006). Helping students find a voice, by giving them the words. California English, 24-25.

7. Sert, Olcay (2005). The functions of code switching in ELT classrooms. The Internet TESL Journal, XI, Retrieved February 7, 2009, from

Answers to Quiz: 1.D 2.C 3.B 4.A

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