SCET Journal 2020/2021

Language Matters »

In Their Words: Listening to the Voices of Bilingual Women in the English Classroom Kristie C. Camp

Review of Literature Despite growing diversity in the United States, many multilingual students still attend school in a predominantly White setting. Martin-Beltran (2014) notes that increasing language diversity in American classrooms presents a new kind of learning opportu- nity for all students but also notes that lack of under- standing of that potential means it is often not realized (p. 208). Academic progress, especially in literacy, has often been measured from a deficit view for multilin- gual learners. Kibler (2010) says this deficit view can especially be seen in writing instruction, which she says is measured “by what they do not know” (p. 122) or by “their distance from native speaker norms” (p. 121). Souto-Manning (2016) asserts that the language teachers use to describe multilingual learners as well as the way they approach teaching multilingual learners can further marginalize students and diminish their overall linguistic skills (p. 263). Cummins (2010) describes a relationship between a student’s pride in their heritage language abilities and whether a teacher describes those abilities in deficit terms. In reality, an achievement gap does appear when multilingual learners’ literacy abilities are measured from a deficit viewpoint. Enright (2011) suggests that the way schools categorize students contributes to this deficit view and highlights the perceived achieve- ment gap which “persists in spite of a broad base of research that focuses on this problem,” adding that “some interventions that promise to raise all stu- dents’ achievement do so in a way that exacerbates the achievement gap...” (p. 80). Another significant consideration for teachers of multilingual learners is the connection between culture and identity, which offers teachers an opportunity to celebrate a student’s unique identity or to marginalize the student. Stu- dents’ heritage language is essentially tied to their cul- tural identity, and by embracing or rejecting students’ heritage languages, a teacher embraces or rejects the students themselves (Martinez, 2017; Metz, 2018; Seltzer, 2019; Souto-Manning, 2016). Because of the tendency to measure the literacy of multilingual learners from a deficit view, research

Words. They are the tools English Language Arts (ELA) teachers use to build readers, writers, thinkers, and speakers. ELA teachers embrace the power of words; we understand how words create images, which shape our feelings and beliefs. To illustrate this concept, consider these phrases that describe two students I taught: young women of color who are non-native English speakers, one who is a refugee, and the other, a first-generation immigrant child . Now, consider these phrases to describe two of my students: scholarship-receiving young women who are multilingual AP students . Do the different de- scriptions change our perceptions of the students described? What about when we consider that both sets of phrases describe the exact same two stu- dents? When we think about the current debates sur- rounding the topic of teaching multilingual learners, we often think about opinions presented by teach- ers, administrators, and government officials, who each present an adult’s view of the situation, and who each advocate for what they perceive as the best route for educating young people, but often without an authentic understanding of what being a multilingual learner is like. What happens, though, when we listen to the students themselves, when we hear the voices of students who successfully navigate speaking multiple languages and who have adapted well to new cultures? This article aims to do just that: to listen to the voices of two students who speak multiple languages and who do not identify as members of the dominant culture, but who also have achieved academic and social success in a rural South Carolina school district. What elements of their ELA instruction did they find most helpful? What qualities of their ELA teachers did they most appreciate? Hearing about experienc- es from two successful young women may help us to maximize our instructional time for the good of our students. The purpose of this study is to center the voices of two young women who can give us first-hand advice on how to create a more inclusive environment for all.




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