24.S95 | Spring 2023 | Graduate

Linguistics in K–12 Education

How the Course Came About

Below, Prof. Maya Honda discusses how she developed 24.S95 Linguistics in K–12 Education, and how the course reflects her own professional focus as an academic.

In the 1980s, as a psychology and human development student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, I cross-registered at MIT for Kenneth Hale and Wayne O’Neil’s Workshop on Linguistics and Education (the long-ago precursor to my course). In the 1960s, as young MIT Linguistics faculty, Ken and Wayne, as well as Samuel Jay Keyser, were among the earliest advocates of integrating modern linguistics into the primary and secondary school curriculum. They believed that investigating one’s own knowledge of language was a uniquely accessible way to introduce young people to the scientific enterprise: posing questions about language, collecting language data, looking for patterns in the data, formulating testable hypotheses about the data, and searching for counterevidence. I got very interested in the work. For my dissertation, I investigated the effects of linguistics instruction and found evidence that linguistic inquiry is an accessible and effective means of developing junior high and high school students’ understanding of the nature of science and scientific inquiry.

When I started teaching at Wheelock College in Boston, I began working with Wayne to develop problem sets in a variety of languages to teach linguistic inquiry to my students. Our book Thinking Linguistically: A Scientific Approach to Language (Wiley, 2008) reflects that work. Across three decades or so, we worked together in diverse educational settings using the problem set approach to engage fifth graders on up in cross-linguistic inquiry.

In 2022, Danny Fox invited me to teach a graduate seminar on linguistics in K–12 education. A colleague said to me, “It’s your dream course!” And it is. I came out of retirement to teach this course, and I’m glad that I did. It’s been great to have the opportunity to work with MIT graduate students and to share what I’ve learned from working with teachers and students in schools. It’s not likely that my students will become school teachers, but I hope that the seminar excites them about teaching and prepares them to design teaching materials and to work collaboratively with teachers to integrate linguistics into the school curriculum.

Course Info

As Taught In
Spring 2023
Learning Resource Types
Instructor Insights
Lecture Notes
Written Assignments with Examples