Julie Washington found herself sitting with a little girl at a school outside Detroit. The two were reading the classic P. D. Eastman picture book Are You My Mother? The girl—4 years old, homeless, and a heavy speaker of the dialect known as African-American English—listened attentively as Washington read:

“Are you my mother?” the baby bird asked the cow.

“How could I be your mother?” said the cow. “I am a cow.”

Washington closed the book and asked the girl to recount the story from memory. The girl hesitated, then launched into it.

"She goes, ‘Is you my mama? I ain’t none a yo’ mama!' She did the whole thing in dialect.”

She had to listen to a story in a dialect she doesn’t really use herself, understand the meaning, hold the story in her memory, recode it in her own dialect, and then say it all back to me.

The girl’s “translation” of the book might not sound like much, but translating it? “That’s hard,” Washington said, especially for a young child.

The experience convinced her that dialect was playing a significant and unrecognized role in the reading achievement of millions of children—and very likely contributing to the persistence of the black–white gap in test scores.

Teaching kids to “code-switch” between their home dialect and the dialect spoken at school, Washington has come to believe, is an important step toward creating a more level playing field.

Read the full article on code-switching by William Brennan at The Atlantic