I recently read Corey Mitchell’s excellent article in EdWeek entitled, Mispronouncing Students’ Names: A Slight That Can Cut Deep. The article addressed one of the most basic aspects of our identity – our names. I certainly remember struggling with students’ names as a high school teacher and I am embarrassed to consider names that I might have pronounced incorrectly. All students deserve to have their names pronounced correctly and learning about each other’s names can help build an inclusive class community and initiate discussions about cultural, linguistic, and familial differences. I taught at a high school with a lot of students with Vietnamese roots and I regret not learning more Vietnamese in addition to the cultural traditions that were integral to many of their families.
In an effort to make sure we know each other’s names, I created an assignment where students could pronounce their name and share a bit about it. I started by handing students a sheet of paper as our bellringer with the following directions:
Directions: Please answer the following questions and be prepared to answer them in less than 30 seconds for our an audio recording.
- Say/pronounce your name
- Share ethnic/cultural/racial/familial background
- Name meaning or a story about your name, particularly how it has been pronounced in or outside of school
I quickly realized that question 2, in particular, might be too specific or personal. While some students knew a lot about question 2, others were not so sure. So, I told my pre-service teachers that these were just prompts and they could share whatever they were most comfortable sharing.
While students were working on a different group project, I called up small groups to my mic to record their segment. Some students were nervous so I told them to return when they were ready. Once all students had recorded, I told students to let me know if they did not want their recording included in the podcast that I planned to share as an example, but no one objected during or after class. I then added some background music, mixed it all together using Audacity, and uploaded it to SoundCloud. Here is our Class Names Project:
Update: Here are newer iterations of the project in the next semester:
What do you think? Do you see any problems with this project? Or do you have any ideas of how to improve it? Please leave comments below.
Finally, my pre-service teachers and I discussed whether they could do something similar in their future classrooms and even share it with parents or caregivers. As for our class, I plan to share this post with my students and then listen to the podcast before our classes to make sure I am pronouncing names correctly and remind myself of all the unique students who make up our class community.
Update: My colleague Dr. Mandy Stewart tipped me off to MyNameMyIdentity.org where you can take a pledge to pronounce students’ names correctly.
Update: I came across this lesson from the fantastic organization Facing History and Ourselves called “Becoming American: Exploring Names and Identity” that is worth exploring.