This summer on the podcast we’re going to be taking a break from our normal content. This past year has been draining for everyone, especially teachers, and we wanted to do what we could to help educators take a breather. For the next several weeks we’ll be sharing samples from some of our audiobooks, and we hope that you’re able sit back, relax, and enjoy these read alouds.
Today on the podcast, we have a sample from En Comunidad by Luz Yadira Herrera and Carla España. En Comunidad provides guidance on centering the voices and experiences of bilingual Latinx students. In narrating their own experiences as students and teachers, the authors open up the classroom for bilingual teachers to bring their full selves to their curriculum.
In this preview, Luz and Carla introduce their book and explain why we need to bring translanguaging to the classroom.
If you’d like to hear more, you can head over to our new audiobooks feed where you can browse our full catalogue and listen to more samples. Just search for Heinemann Audiobooks wherever you listen to podcasts.
Read along with Carla and Luz...
What does it mean to teach students who engage in language practices that reflect the fluid use of English and Spanish? Let’s take a look at a few examples.
- A teacher for over ten years, Yaritza García teaches a classroom of bilingual and multilingual learners in Harlem, New York. Her students speak English, Spanish, and Arabic. Some are from Yemen and others are from the Dominican Republic. Some are in her Bilingual Dual Language class and others are in her monolingual classroom. She plans bilingual read-alouds and engages her middle school students with the use of iPads, accessing translation applications and creating presentations with their bilingual voices that get recorded and shared with the classroom community.
- A teacher candidate from Honduras in a New York City bilingual teacher preparation program, Carolina McCarthy, meets with a small group of students, in the first-grade Bilingual Dual Language Spanish classroom where she is conducting her student teaching placement. The classroom teacher, a former monolingual white woman who studied in Spain and continues to build on her bilingual journey, has just corrected the Central American and South American students and Carolina on their pronunciation of certain words in Spanish, along with the way they call certain items in Spanish as compared with her way. The classroom teacher has shared that her way of calling things is the “correct” way. Students are confused and Carolina is thinking of ways to affirm the students’ language practices while being confident in her own language journey and Afro-Latina identity that have been shamed by the classroom teacher.
- Jane Barnes, a lead teacher for her third-grade classroom, is a white woman teaching in a culturally and linguistically diverse urban setting. She has studied Spanish enough to be able to teach her fourth-grade Bilingual Dual Language class but not enough to make her confident in reading the academic articles assigned to her in graduate coursework. She welcomes teacher candidate Marlena Miranda, who has been speaking Spanish and Italian since her childhood with her Mexican-Italian family. During the “English day” when the Bilingual Dual Language upper grades instruct in English, Ms. Barnes previews her reading workshop lesson in Spanish, has a chart up with the vocabulary terms in Spanish and in English, and while students read independently, she facilitates one small group in Spanish.
- Marlena takes note of her observations and compares these with her experience in another bilingual classroom she observed where there was a strict language separation. If students were lost, shut down, or apprehensive on either of the “Spanish-only” or “English-only” days, they did not receive the kind of support she witnessed in this class with Ms. Barnes. Carlos, another student teacher in the room next door where the third-grade Bilingual Dual Language class is held, also takes notes. In his experience, the classroom teacher is from Puerto Rico and has studied Spanish in schools in Puerto Rico, in New York City, and in Spain. This classroom teacher also makes sure that all students have access to books in both Spanish and English. Carlos feels challenged by this use of Spanish, since his own schooling experience growing up was mostly in English.
- Valerie, a monolingual white woman, teaches bilingual and multilingual students in monolingual middle school classrooms. Valerie has just finished her first year at a middle school in a neighborhood that was quite different from where she taught for five years prior to her change of school. Previously, most students came from the Dominican Republic, and Valerie got to know the families and students really well. This time, Valerie is learning more about different cultural and linguistic practices along with policies that directly impact her students. Valerie finds refuge in poetry and writing; she engages in these herself while also sharing with her students.
These stories reveal how educators either welcome students’ experiences and shape schooling to be a liberating journey or struggle to create a positive experience for all students.
We, Carla and Luz, have been some of these teachers. Before that, we were the students: both those who have been shamed, and those who have been welcomed and motivated to learn because our teachers acknowledged who we are and how we learn. We have been those teachers who at times are faced with the question, What do I do now? when a challenge arises. We have also been those teachers who seek the help of our community, colleagues, and mentors when planning instruction. Now, as bilingual teacher-educators, we join with teacher candidates in advocating with and for our bilingual Latinx students. Our experiences have been the driving force that led us to collaborate in this book, bringing together our journeys as bilingual students, teachers, and teacher-educators. We hope that this book can inspire all educators, teachers, and teacher-educators to be thoughtful in creating a welcoming, liberating, and transformative learning environment for all Latinx students.
We use the term “Latinx” as a more inclusive, gender-neutral alternative to “Latina” or “Latino.” Our use of terms should be full of thoughtfulness, not for what is trending but for what looks out for the most marginalized/racialized populations. Afro-Indigenous poet and artist Alan Pelaez Lopez encourages us to ask the following questions as we use the term Latinx: “ ‘what have I done to show up for Black, Indigenous, women and femmes of the Latin American diaspora today?’ and ‘why?’” (2018).
How Can We Center the Voices and Experiences of the Latinx Students in Our Classrooms?
From our work with a wide range of bilingual Latinx students, our research and scholarship, our mentorship from luminaries in the field, and our own experiences, we have identified six essential practices for teachers who center the voices and experiences of Latinx students:
Practice #1: Get to know our students' journeys.
We use journeys to describe those experiences that continuously shape and influence our students’ realities. It may mean navigating identities that do not fit neatly into boxes that students check off on a form or questioning how others define them versus how they self-identify. Some students have had varied immigration experiences and may be growing up as the first generation in the United States. Perhaps it is a combination of experiences that include the ways their language practices have been interpreted, and other aspects of who they are, all of which impact their lives in various ways. These also reveal how students respond to issues of marginalization. As educators, we have to create meaningful spaces for the sharing and learning of all of our journeys.
I was about to turn five years old when I stepped foot for the first time in a school in the United States. I had just left my family in Chile and traveled with my mother so we could join my father who had been in New York for a year. That transition, as undocumented immigrants, brought out many tears and fears throughout my childhood. The rejection at times was palpable, as was the resilience I witnessed in my parents. I remember getting lost with mamá once in Queens, New York, right in the middle of winter. This was before smartphones, and mamá feared asking for help as it could’ve resulted in being deported. Eventually we made our way back home, but to this day, every time I pass the street where this happened, I feel the fear and pain and can never hold back the tears.
Toward the latter part of my elementary school years, my abuelita from my dad’s side joined us from Chile. This was the first time we had someone from our family back in Chile live with us in New York. It made a huge difference as the transition leaving our entire family behind was a very lonely one. Papá was super happy to have his mom in our midst, but worked so hard that only mamá and abuelita were able to attend my school events.
My father first arrived in San Jose, California, on his own, while my mom and I stayed in Mexico. He started out as a custodian at an office building and cleaned offices after hours, late into the night. He arrived with ten dollars in his pocket, and since it took several weeks for him to get his first paycheck, he would eat leftovers he would find from office meetings and parties earlier that day. Later, when I asked him about that experience when he first moved to San Jose, I will never forget how I felt when he told me about the time that he was so hungry that he picked up a half-eaten apple from the garbage bin in an office he was cleaning. My mother and I joined him before my first birthday. Sometimes my mother went to help him clean so that he could finish faster, and on those days, they left me in the care of a neighbor. We shared an apartment with others, and when my father had some of his savings stolen from a jacket pocket (he didn’t have a bank account then), my mother told him that she was going back to Mexico and taking me with her. We had been together in San Jose for less than a year. For the next several years, my father went back and forth from California to Mexico to see us at least once a year.
In discussing these stories from our lives, we must acknowledge the privilege in being reunited with our family and in eventually becoming documented. There are many children who experiences extended or permanent family separation, and the trauma that ensues must not be ignored throughout their schooling.
What this means in our work
Teaching approaches for bilingual or multilingual Latinx students that focus on strategies often fail to contextualize the students’ experiences. Even the terms used to label our students exemplify this practice, for example, English Language Learner(ELL). In this text, in our research, and in our work with schools we use the term Emergent Bilingual Learner (EBL) to describe those students who are at the beginning of the bilingual journey or bilingual continuum (García 2009). Although our stories are not representative of all Latinx students, we share these as examples of our own lived experiences and their impact on our school life. Family relationships, documentation, and socioemotional factors are just a few, but important, aspects of our students’ multifaceted journeys. Consider these questions both from your own and your students’ perspectives. These can help you develop your knowledge of yourself and possibly your students.
- How would you describe your journey through schooling?
- How would you describe your relationships with family and community?
- How would you describe the way you navigate the many aspects of your identities?
- Where are the areas of privilege in your journey? Where are the areas where you’ve been disadvantaged?
Practice #2: Understand our students' language practices.
We use the phrase language practices to highlight how we engage with language and how languaging is a process that is performed differently depending on context. This helps us describe how we use language to communicate, convey emotions, and create or support relationships. Our language practices reflect our linguistic resources, some of which may be nurtured in our schooling or suppressed. A bilingual child, for instance, may have language features categorized as Spanish or English in their repertoire, and thus their language practices often involve the use of all of those features as they seek to communicate, make connections, and negotiate relationships.
I remember leaving my elementary school classroom and joining other kids for a few minutes a day and sitting in a small room that looked like a closet. There, we would use our Spanish as we translated words. At La Escuela Argentina, a Saturday program in Spanish that was held in my neighborhood, I learned Argentinian songs, learned words from their regional varieties of Spanish, performed traditional folklore dances, learned their history, and participated in class. From middle school through high school, I developed my linguistic repertoire and my confidence when translating workshops, classes, and sermons at our local church. I also helped my parents in conversations with doctors, bank representatives, computer companies, and employers. Whether it was about bills, their jobs, or advocating for our rights, I translated and conveyed information. I was the family’s interpreter, and I was learning a lot about the world very fast. Later in graduate school I learned about this being called “language and cultural brokering” and it is a common practice with children of immigrants (Orellana 2009). It was tough for me to read this as a researcher and an adult, noticing how common it is, how researchers interpret these practices as a skill, and how growing up it was rare to feel as if my schooling embraced this at all.
Now as a teacher-educator, I hear the common stories from bilingual Latinx teacher candidates and inservice teachers who feel like something was lost as their schooling developed their English but not their Spanish. Bilingual programs were either nonexistent in their schools or, if they existed, families were not informed about their benefits and feared their children falling behind, placing them in monolingual programs. Now in a graduate program, reading and writing in Spanish is not only a challenge for these teachers but also an emotional point as they realize the impact that monolingual schooling had on their identity and drive to become bilingual educators, especially when the ways they speak Spanish are questioned or shamed in their schools. They sit in the same classrooms as white teacher candidates and inservice teachers who took courses in Spanish in high school and/or college, and several had opportunities to travel to Spanish-speaking countries for study abroad. White teacher candidates are more comfortable writing papers for graduate courses in Spanish, and their ways of speaking Spanish are welcomed in their schools.
When I was seven years old, we finally joined my father in Los Angeles in a tiny studio apartment. By this time, I had two brothers, and we were a family of five. My father was no longer cleaning office buildings in Los Angeles, he was now an auto electrician, a skill he learned from my grandfather. “Tienes que escribir una oración,” said Harvey, my classmate at my new local elementary school in Los Angeles. It was my first day of school. “¿Oración?” I thought it was an odd request from the teacher to ask me to write a “prayer,” but I began writing the “Our Father” prayer in my notebook: “Padre Nuestro, que estás en el cielo . . .” “¡No, eso no! ¡Una oración usando estas palabras!” Harvey exclaimed and pointed to some foreign list of words. I was embarrassed. I had no idea what those words meant that I was supposed to be using in a sentence. I don’t think I had even heard of the word oración in Spanish before; I knew how to write sentences well, but I just had not heard that word oración in that context before. In Mexico, I started school at three years old, so I learned to read and write early. My third-grade teacher was a monolingual English speaker but knew to sit me next to Harvey, my bilingual buddy. I was fortunate to have arrived several years before Californians voted for Proposition 227, which placed heavy restrictions on bilingual education and virtually eliminated these programs in the state. (CA Proposition 58 was passed in 2016, which lifted the ban on bilingual education and reversed Proposition 227.) Still, my elementary school’s version of a bilingual program was getting pulled out of class several times a week for Spanish literacy. It was not the most supportive system, but it allowed me a space to be myself, to amplify my voice, and to show what I could do.
Even from a young age, and as the oldest of four children (my sister was born soon after we reunited with my dad), I was the family’s official interpreter. I was given the task to answer phone calls from utility companies, speak to my dad’s clients on the phone, read correspondence from creditors, and talk to cashiers at stores, among many other types of language brokering (Orellana 2009) that needed to be done.
What this means in our work
Too often, bilingual students are viewed as “lacking,” as needing to “develop academic vocabulary,” as “English Language Learners,” and not as sophisticated speakers and interpreters of complex language practices. Understanding all of the ways that our students engage in multiple literacies across language practices means validating the varied experiences and funds of knowledge (Moll et al. 1992) of bilingual students. We need spaces that center our language practices, which in turn can enable us to experience success in these same spaces. Marjorie Faulstich Orellana’s (2009) research on the role of children of immigrant parents as language and cultural brokers also shows the complex language practices of children and how these practices build empathy for diverse experiences. We must listen to the language experiences of bilingual Latinx students, including those who do not consider them-selves bilingual or have felt stifled in their bilingual journey. Whether it is due to assimilationist survival tactics from generations of discrimination experienced by loved ones or formal schooling that did not provide support in the development of their bilingual identities, it is important that they, too, are acknowledged.
Consider these questions:
- What are your language practices? What languages make up your linguistic repertoire?
- Has your schooling supported or silenced your language practices? Why?
- How do your language practices inform your teaching?
- How would you describe your beliefs about teaching (your pedagogical stance) when it comes to working with emergent bilingual children?
Practice #3: Understand our students' (and their families') traditions of literacies.
In this book, we take a broad view of literacy, following the legacies of sociocultural approaches. These approaches consider that literacies happen in context, for example, the various practices that families engage in, such as oral traditions, including storytelling, proverbs, and elder and community wisdom that have been passed down through generations. These also include digital literacies as well as literacies most commonly associated with youth culture: you may have students who can fully explain the use of social media platforms, online gaming communities, music-related literacies (hip-hop, K-pop), and the informational how-to videos they watch repeatedly to learn more about their interests.
During the school week, I would try my best to make something out of what I heard and read in school. “Hi, Dad!” came really quickly when I was five. Papáwould sit with me every day and help me with math homework after he got home from his job at a local restaurant. From the second I walked into our home, I did not feel behind. I did not feel like I struggled or lacked anything as I was made to feel during the school day. “¿Vamos a comer charquicán?” I’d ask my parents or abuelita. “¿Mi hijita cómo le fue en el colegio? ¿Tiene muchas tareas? ¡Cuéntenos!” They would ask me to tell them about my day in school. I would listen to mamá’s stories and impersonations. I would tell stories about my school day, follow papá’s instructions on cooking a Chilean meal, and listen to music. Sometimes, papá would show us a Bible study he was working on or how translations differed. At other times, we would listen to a sermon or a song and write out notes or the lyrics because I would practice these in Spanish and English in preparation for rehearsals with the church choir. My favorite activity (after singing) was walking over to the movie rental store and looking for films that had subtitles in Spanish. We would watch these films in English and read the subtitles. In other words, before I did my homework—or sometimes afterward on movie nights—I was already engaged in multiple literacy practices.
I will forever be grateful to Professor Anaida Pascual-Morán, who came from Puerto Rico to Princeton, New Jersey, to teach a liberating pedagogies course. And Professor Ernest Morrell, who at Teachers College engaged graduate students in a course on critical literacies. As an adult, I have been able to witness educators who are aware of students’ multiple literacies and create curricula with this awareness. As a student in their classrooms, I have experienced how transformative it can be for instructors to really see our full humanity.
As a mother of a biracial and bicultural son, one of my main priorities has been to build a library for him with rich bilingual children’s literature. At minimum, we read one book in Spanish and one book in English before bedtime. Of course, he always pushes for more, partly also because he wants to delay bedtime as much as possible, and I usually oblige. When I insist on turning off the lights, he usually has one more request that I similarly can never deny, “Can you tell me a story? ¡Un cuento!” And I make up a cuento bilingually on the spot, “Había una vez . . .”Remi is usually the protagonist and hero. This always brings me back to my own mother’s stories. We didn’t have books for bedtime stories. Some may believe our family was literacy-deprived since we didn’t really have books, except for my mom’s romance novels. But our mother always told us cuentos. And we would always beg for more traditional folktales, but our favorite was our family’s oral history. She told us stories of her and my father’s childhood in Mexico, cuentos of that time that her mamá Lupe, her grandmother, was kidnapped by a young man (my great-grandfather) who liked her, “se la robó,” she would say, and she was later forced to marry him and give up the love of her life to preserve her integrity, as the old ways demanded. I have come to see just how rich my family was in literacy, even though we didn’t have many books.
What this means in our work
Too often, emergent bilingual or multilingual students and their families are con-sidered—and even labeled—illiterate. Sometimes, speakers who engage in using features of Spanish and English are even deemed to be “semilingual.” This kind of language does not validate the many literacies with which our students engage at home and in their communities. In addition to our experiences shared here, we can see our students engaged in multiple literacies when they navigate across social media and digital media and know how to use these and other ways of communication across different contexts. For example, when taking students on a trip to a museum or to see a play or musical, we all are engaging in multiple literacies.
Worse, this notion of emergent bilinguals or multilinguals as “semilingual” reflects a perspective that views bilingualism as a deficit. Although our individual experiences are not representative of all kinds of literacy experiences, they can give an idea of how bilingual students’ literacy practices can, in fact, be far more complex than those students are asked to show in English-only settings.
Consider these questions:
- What are some of the multiple literacy practices you grew up with in your home and community?
- Were any of your own literacy practices present in your schooling? If so, why do you think these were welcomed? If not, why do you think these were not integrated in your school experiences?
- What do you know of your students’ multiple literacy practices? How can you learn even more about these practices?
- How do you consider your students’ multiple literacy practices in your planning and teaching?
Carla España is an instructor at the Bank Street College Graduate School of Education. Carla’s teaching journey began in a bilingual classroom in Harlem, New York, continued at Teachers College Reading and Writing Project partner schools, and at the bilingual teacher preparation program at Hunter College, City University of New York. Finder Carla on Twitter: @ProfesoraEspana
Luz Yadira Herrera is an Assistant Professor at the Kremen School of Education and Human Development at California State University, Fresno. As a former teacher in NYC public schools and researcher at CUNY-NYSIEB, her teaching and research centers culturally and linguistically sustaining approaches to teaching emergent bilinguals, translanguaging pedagogy, and bilingual education policy. Find Luz on Twitter: @Dra_LuzYadira