Amy Plackowski is a high school English and linguistics teacher at Hudson High School in Hudson, Massachusetts. She holds a BA in English from Alma College and an MA in English from Georgetown University. She began teaching a linguistics elective in 2014. In 2020, the course, retitled Linguistics and Media Studies, became an option for juniors and seniors to complete for core English credit. She is particularly interested in how linguistics can support anti-racist pedagogy and media literacy. She has authored three publications on teaching linguistics in high school and presented on teaching high school linguistics at the annual meeting of the LSA and the National Council of Teachers of English. She is the junior chair of the Linguistics in the School Curriculum Committee and a member of the AP Linguistics Committee. She tweets about teaching high school linguistics under the handle @linguistihawk.

The LSA Member Spotlight highlights the interests and accomplishments of a different LSA member each month. Click here to see previous Member Spotlights.

When did you first join the LSA?

I joined in 2019, when Suzi Loosen invited me to take part on a panel of high school teachers who were teaching linguistics.

How have you been involved with the LSA since you joined?

The panel I presented on was called “The Teachers Are Here: Promoting Linguistics in High Schools.” That was my introduction to the LSA, and I’ve been involved ever since. I joined the AP Linguistics Committee and the Linguistics in the School Curriculum Committee that year, and I became the junior chair of LiSC this year. In 2020, I presented at the National Council of Teachers of English on an LSA-sponsored panel that included Nicoleta Bateman and Teaira McMurtry. I’m especially excited to present at the NCTE again in 2021 to talk about teaching anti-racism by teaching linguistics.

What are you currently working on?

When my school moved the Linguistics course from an elective to a core course, we combined it with another elective then called Media Literacy, so now the course is officially Linguistics & Media Studies. The Media Literacy teacher and I have been working hard to find places where those two fields intersect to build this course. This was a tough year to pilot the course, but the students have been patient and enthusiastic. Designing curriculum is one of my favorite things. This semester, we’re experimenting with a more thematic rather than topical organization. For example, we have a unit called “Black Language on Trial,” where we give kids a linguistic framework in phonology, morphosyntax, historical linguistics, sociolinguistics, etc. that enables them to look critically at court cases and other controversies that have involved Black English. We have another unit called “Fake News” where we teach students to examine news media and politics through the lens of semantics and pragmatics.

What is your personal favorite linguistic text?

Anything that helps make linguistics accessible to high school students. I’ve started the course with excerpts from Gretchen McCullough’s Because Internet since it came out. It gives students a really accessible way to see what it means to “do linguistics,” and invites them to look at patterns in their own language use on social media. Anne Curzan’s “teach me a slang word” activity, which she details in her TED talk, helps my students use their own voices as data sets to understand the unwritten grammatical rules that govern their own language use.I’ve also found a lot of success with using podcasts like The Vocal Fries, Lingthusiasm, and The Allusionist. Not only are they great introductions to linguistics, but good models for engaging academic conversations.

How has the field of linguistics changed since you first started your work?

The effort to put linguistics into the secondary classroom has been around for a long time; we are standing on the shoulders of giants like the late Wayne O’Neil and many other people who have been doing this work for decades. But my feeling is that the reality of linguistics in the high school classroom is really starting to gain momentum, especially with the ability for those of us who are doing this work to connect with each other virtually. When I was first putting together my linguistics course, I didn’t know of anyone teaching linguistics at the secondary level. The only resources I had were the ones Suzi Loosen shared with me. Now we have a lot of teachers sharing resources and best practices. 

What would you say to students considering a degree in linguistics?

I always tell my students that linguistics is so relevant to any field you might think about pursuing--education, computer science, law, the arts. Even if you don’t end up majoring in linguistics, the skills and knowledge you gain is applicable to everything you do.

What, in your opinion, is the most important service the LSA provides to its members? To the field?

The collaborative opportunities I’ve gotten through LSA have been incredibly beneficial for me and my students. I’ve not only met other high school linguistics teachers, but linguists in and out of academia who are interested in bringing linguistics to a wider audience, especially high school students. And the spirit really is collaborative; everyone values each other’s expertise and is willing to help in any way. Because of the collaboration and support I’ve been offered through the LSA, I’ve had several students who have become interested in pursuing linguistics in one way or another as a result of being exposed to the field in high school.

Is there anything else you'd like to say to the LSA membership as a whole?

Let’s continue talking about how we can work together to make linguistics happen at the pre-college level. One of the barriers for high school teachers is the lack of appropriately leveled resources. I can distill a 10-page linguistics paper into something that makes sense for high school students, but it takes a lot of time--something that high school teachers don’t have a lot of. Some of us are really enthusiastic about the field but may not have majored in linguistics. There’s also not a lot of information on best practices for middle or high school linguistics like there is for a subject like English or math. Linguistics can make us more informed consumers and citizens; it’s not just for college-bound students. How could we create an accessible curriculum for students who typically struggle with academics or engagement?