Welcome to the UMD Toggle Talk Project!
Here at the University of MD we are partnering with Baltimore City Public Schools to study the efficacy of ToggleTalk®, a language arts curriculum supplement. ToggleTalk provides young children with vocabulary and language structure awareness to become comfortable in switching between their home/informal language and classroom/formal language. ToggleTalk has been shown to improve standardized reading scores in pilot studies.
What is ToggleTalk?
ToggleTalk is an evidence-based language arts curriculum supplement created specifically for kindergarten and first grade teachers. ToggleTalk helps children become bi-dialectually fluent by using Contrastive Analysis to teach children how to make situationally appropriate language choices. ToggleTalk is designed to help teachers address hard-to-meet MD College and Career Ready Standards for speaking, listening, and language.
“This program is really used to dispel and rewrite this whole idea of talking ‘proper.’ It’s all about knowing when and where to talk and how to talk in certain places. The program is not going to ‘correct’ anything or take anything away from [students]. It [opens] up a new perspective.”
-First Grade Teacher, Furman L. Templeton, Baltimore, MD
“The students love the materials. They love touching them, moving them, identifying them and saying what they know about them. To me, that is exactly what learning is… you’ll hear them talk back and forth about why it should be informal or formal and they give reasons why it should be what it is. It’s outstanding.”
-Kindergarten Teacher, Garfield Elementary School, Southeast Washington D.C. Public Schools
Varieties of English in the News:
- April 2018, The Atlantic: Julie Washington’s Quest to Get Schools to Respect African-American English
The Toggle Talk Project at the University of Maryland is recruiting Maryland and DC schools to partner with the project for the 2019-2020 school year.
What is ToggleTalk®?
ToggleTalk® is a fully-developed language arts curriculum supplement that uses scripted lessons to teach students how to recognize and produce language in both their home/informal language and the classroom/formal language. Lessons use picture sorting, writing, and read-alouds with custom-written storybooks to introduce the concept of home/informal/non-academic language vs. classroom/formal/academic language. ToggleTalk lessons are about 15-20 minutes long and are delivered by the classroom teacher about 2-3 times a week for about 16 weeks.
All ToggleTalk lessons are scripted to ensure fidelity of implementation across teachers with different levels of knowledge about dialect differences, grammar, and contrastive analysis. A training program to teach educators how to implement ToggleTalk includes a hands-on half-day workshop prior to beginning Toggle Talk and on-site observations with feedback throughout the first year of implementation.
What does school participation in this project involve?
The goal is to have 20 schools participate over a 4-year period. All schools that agree to participate in the project will receive ToggleTalk materials and training and implement the ToggleTalk curriculum at some point over the course of the project. At different points throughout the project, some schools will serve as “Toggle Talk” schools and some will serve as “Control” schools, meaning they will continue their regular language arts curriculum (“business-as-usual”).
What issue does ToggleTalk address?
Many school-age children in the United States speak a non-mainstream variety of English at home. At times, this prevents access to full understanding of the language of instruction which is almost always Academic Classroom English, a register of Mainstream American English (MAE). This mismatch between home/informal/non-academic language and classroom/formal/academic language makes it more difficult for young children to understand their teacher and learn to read. Recent research has shown that children in the early elementary school years who have the most difficulty shifting between home language and classroom language also have the poorest literacy skills. This was the motivation for the development of ToggleTalk, which is designed to explicitly teach kindergarten and first grade children who speak a non-mainstream variety of English at home how to shift between home/informal/non-academic language and classroom/formal/academic language using contrastive analysis.
What are the benefits of participating?
Students: Small-scale pilot studies* have shown that ToggleTalk improves children’s ability to dialect shift and that this results in improved literacy skills, especially in decoding and phonological awareness which are critical for early reading development. Thus, there may be direct benefits to children in Toggle Talk classrooms.
Teachers: Kindergarten and first grade teachers will receive state of the art professional development on how to support their culturally and linguistically diverse students as they learn to dialect shift between home/informal/non-academic language and classroom/formal/academic language. This training will also be open to other interested teachers and administrators at the schools. Teachers in both Toggle Talk and BAU schools will receive stipends for participation.
Schools: The participating schools will receive a stipend to buy books, art supplies, and fund field trips related to programming for culturally and linguistically diverse students.
Do you have a child in kindergarten or first grade? Do you want to help us improve reading instruction for your child and other children?
The Baltimore City Schools are participating in a project with researchers at the University of Maryland to study whether ToggleTalk® helps children learn to read. ToggleTalk teaches young children how to shift back and forth between their home/informal language and classroom/formal language. The project will include 20 Baltimore City Schools over the next three years. All 20 of the schools will receive the ToggleTalk curriculum during the 4-year project.
Toggle Talk Schools
If your child is in a Toggle Talk school this year, then this means that your child’s teacher will use the ToggleTalk curriculum. In order to know whether ToggleTalk works, we would like to compare test scores of children in Toggle Talk schools to children in school’s that don’t use ToggleTalk. We will test students toward the beginning and toward the end of the school year. The testing will take place at your child’s school at a time that the teacher agrees on. UMD students and staff will be working with your child to do the testing.
If your child is in a Business-As-Usual school this year, then this means that your child’s teacher will continue with the regular literacy instruction. Next year, your child’s school will be a Toggle Talk school. In order to know whether ToggleTalk works, we would like to compare test scores of children in Toggle Talk schools to children in schools that don’t use ToggleTalk. We will test students toward the beginning and toward the end of the school year. The testing will take place at your child’s school at a time that the teacher agrees on. UMD students and staff will be working with your child to do the testing.
- A University of Maryland t-shirt for returning the consent form
- A small toy or book for participating in testing
How to Join Our Project
We can only test students if their parents give us permission by signing a consent form. If you want your children to participate in our project, please sign a consent form. You can return it to us or your child’s teacher.
What do Parents Say About ToggleTalk?
“I think all schools should do programs like this. It really helps the kids learn.”
“The only recommendation I would make would be to extend the length of the program.”
“I just wanted to say thank you for showing a desire to make a difference in the lives of our kindergarteners.”
What do Teachers Say About ToggleTalk?
“I think ToggleTalk increases students’ confidence because they could be feeling, “hey, you know it’s ok for me to talk like this sometimes.” That’s how I saw it…as well as having another way to teach the children how to use school language.”
-Kindergarten Teacher, Robert W. Coleman Elementary School, Baltimore, MD
“ToggleTalk differentiated between when to use [language] formally and informally. ……This program dispels and rewrites this whole idea of talking ‘proper.’ It’s all about knowing when and where to talk and how to talk in certain places. The program is not going to ‘correct’ anything or take anything away from students. It’s opening up a new perspective of ‘this is how I talk when I am at school’ and ‘this is how I talk with my friends and family.’ ”
-First Grade Teacher, Furman L. Templeton Preparatory Academy, Baltimore, MD
The Learning to Talk Team, led by Dr. Jan Edwards, is teaming up with Dr. Ebony Terrell Shockley (UMD Department of Teaching and Learning, Policy and Leadership), Dr. Rebecca Silverman (Stanford University), and Dr. Jeff Harring (UMD Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology) as Co-Principal Investigators on the Toggle Talk Project. They have worked with teachers and students in Maryland and Virginia schools to develop and evaluate interventions aimed at supporting student learning in schools.
Thank you for your interest in the work of the UMD Toggle Talk Project! We will continue to update this page with publications and presentations related to An Efficacy Study of Toggle Talk.
Maher, Z., Erskine, M., Byrd, A., Harring, J., & Edwards, J. (2021). African American English and early literacy: A comparison of approaches to quantifying non-mainstream dialect use. Language, Speech, Hearing Services in Schools, 51, 118-130. https://doi.org/10.1044/2020_LSHSS-19-00115 View Article
Maher, Z. Mazzei, C., Terrell Shockley, C. & Edwards, J., & Thonesavanh, T. (2021). How a dialect-shifting curriculum shapes K-1 teachers’ attitudes toward language variation: A mixed-methods study. Paper presented at the 7th Annual Language, Linguistics, and Life Conference: Teaching, Learning and Assessment in Foreign/Second Language Education, Online, 23 April. View Slides
Maher, Z., M. Erskine, A. Byrd, and J. Edwards (2021). “Evaluating the influence of peers on the acquisition of mainstream forms by children who speak African American English.” Poster at the 4th Variation in Language Acquisition Conference. Rorschach, Switzerland, 24-26 June [virtual]. View Slides
Byrd, A., Erskine, M., Maher, Z., Oppenheimer, K., & Edwards J. (2019). Expanding your toolbox: Strategies to support linguistically diverse students. Presentation at the 2019 Annual Conference of the American Speech-Language Hearing Association, Orlando, FL, 21-23 November. View Slides