SCET Journal 2020/2021

« Language Matters

sified as a non-English reader, writer, and speaker, but exited the program as an 11th grader. She says holding conversations was a valuable language-learning pro- cess for her, “a lot more valuable than to sit in class and learn English.” She said, “Oh, I love when they [teach- ers] use Google translate sometimes, so they would put like some sentences and it would translate for me, and there was like specific people they would, like, set to help me throughout, like Jane [another friend] and other people, and that was really helpful.” She says learning to read English was especially dif- ficult, however, and she “did not like it ‘cause I did not understand most of the words, especially like the big words that most people don’t know, and sometimes I would read it and get the overall idea from like the small words and sometimes I can’t get the details be- cause of the words.” She says she appreciated when teachers read texts aloud because “the voice is more clear, and the words, you can hear the words, uhh, like loudly and clearly versus when the teachers make us read it ourselves or make other students read it.” Roxanne, who grew up speaking both English and Spanish, agrees. She says, “I like when teachers read aloud ‘cause I don’t know how to pronounce some words.” Both participants said their mothers knew very little English, but their fathers spoke a bit more because of their work experiences, and that is how Roxanne was first introduced to English words. “I grew up in a mostly Hispanic neighborhood so that was just Spanish,” Rox- anne explains, “but I only learned English from my dad, so what I knew, so what he taught me was, like, what I spoke, and at that time, he didn’t speak it as well, but he tried to teach me what he knew.” Roxanne was selected for her district’s 4K program to facilitate her English language learning, but in 5K, she tested as a fluent English speaker, an early reader and beginning writer of English. She tested out of the Multilanguage Learners program in 7th grade, scoring the highest score available in listening skills, along with top scores in reading and speaking. As an ac- complished student in English, she says, “I find myself like tongue twisted sometimes, and I stutter because I don’t know how it works, but in my brain, sometimes it will switch between languages, and I have to think about what I say.” She says this means sometimes, as she listens to someone speaking, “I have to think about what I’m going to say” because she talks to friends at school in both English and Spanish. Her ad-

vice to teachers: understand that her language is her culture. She told a story of one language teacher who “just straight up taught the material” but contrasted that teacher with one who would “play games with us,” and “that was good, like being involved and involving holidays, too.” She added, “Yeah, and I like it when they ask you questions from the students that are eth- nic to that language.” Discussion My two years with Andi and Roxanne taught me much about teaching multilingual learners, but when I sat down and talked to them about their learning ex- periences as a whole, they invited me into their worlds in a way classroom instruction had not. As a veteran teacher, I am aware of how multilingual learners are discussed in a school setting, and that is almost always from a deficit view, one that emphasizes test scores and school report cards, which means the discussion generally excludes highly successful multilingual learn- ers such as Andi and Roxanne. They have succeed- ed, passed the tests required to move out of the MLL program, and are now viewed as traditional learners. Except that taking such a numbers-based, deficit view marginalizes these students in a different way (Kibler, 2010; Martinez, 2018; Souto-Manning, 2016); it ignores their cultural identities and the immense literacy skills that come with being bilingual (Martin-Beltran, 2014; Martinez, 2017; Seltzer, 2019; Zapata & Laman, 2016). From this narrative look at Roxanne and Andi’s expe- riences, we can draw some conclusions about the roles that secondary ELA classes can play in the lives of high- ly successful multilingual students, as well as identify areas for future inquiry. We need to listen more closely to the stories and experiences of our multilingual learn- ers when making curriculum and policy decisions; those who have excelled academically, like Andi and Roxanne, can provide first-hand evidence about classroom expe- riences that have and have not been helpful for them in multiple arenas—language development, testing, class- room climate, text selection, and more. When standards and testing demand rigid expository writing, we must find ways to increase opportunities for students to write and speak about themselves in non-threatening ways so teachers can hear the voices and insights of their diverse student populations. Teachers can also ask for feedback on instruction and texts in addition to assess- ing what students learn from a lesson.

South Carolina English Teacher



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