Former BC graduate, Catherine Michener, now an assistant professor at Rowan University, just published this article examining how teachers' literacy instructional talk relates to reading outcomes among multilingual learners. Findings suggest that when teachers provide explanations and follow-up on students' interests in the classroom, students' reading performance was affected. Language exposure was achieved by explicit instruction alongside positive reinforcement that encouraged student attention to various learning tasks.
Read or listen to a story about the need for establishing a pipeline of bilingual teachers in Massachusetts now that the state is poised to bring bilingual education back after 15 years of linguistic prohibition.
On November 15th, 2017, Massachusetts’s legislators voted to end 15 years of linguistic prohibition and reinstate bilingual education in our public schools. H. 4032: An Act relative to language opportunity for our kids passed by a veto-proof margin and awaits Governor Baker’s signature. If made law, this will be the first time since 2002 that Massachusetts school districts can choose whether to provide bilingual instruction for their students. As a long-time Massachusetts bilingual educator, with ties to the state, universities, schools, and school districts, I greeted this news with a combination of relief, sadness, and hope.
It is a relief that school districts will now be able to offer bilingual education if they deem it to be the best approach for their students. This means that a measure of sanity has been restored to the Commonwealth. Fifteen years of forbidding the use of heritage languages in our classrooms, however, has created a profoundly monolingual educational system, which is cause for sadness for those of us who care about social and linguistic justice.
Throughout these years, however, there has always been hope. The Framingham Public Schools have cultivated bilingualism and biliteracy through their support of Spanish- and Portuguese-language programming. In Boston, Cambridge, and Chelsea, Spanish and Mandarin programs continue to thrive despite limited resources for bilingual curricula. The Massachusetts Association for Bilingual Education hosts a school-based annual conference for bilingual educators. Researchers at area universities maintain a focus on how bilingualism can be leveraged to promote literacy achievement. Non-profit organizations promote bilingualism and biliteracy as critical for supporting school and community ties.
These stalwart bilingual educators have sustained us over these 15 years, and now we have a new hope. We are faced with a singular, paradoxical moment: the pain of 15 years of free speech repression in K – 12 education, alongside the hope of being able to start over. Here are four things that should be at the forefront of rethinking bilingual education:
The list is a start point. As of Wednesday, November 15, 2017, the English-only era in Massachusetts is over, and we have the chance to do something unique. It is time to cultivate bilingualism and biliteracy as ends in and of themselves, in the service of broader educational equity in the Commonwealth.
I just had a publication go to press at the Bilingual Research Journal - research that I did in collaboration with Jeff Harring and Rebecca Silverman at the University of Maryland. It's the culminating bilingual literacy study from our first CLAVES (Comprehension, Linguistic Awareness, and Vocabulary in English & Spanish) grant, which ran from 2009 - 2013. It is also the first study I designed from start to finish meant to build on my dissertation research investigating the role of Spanish vocabulary predicting English reading and the distal connections between Spanish oral language and English reading.
This study takes positions on theory, research, and practice in addressing linguistic interdependence among Spanish-English bilingual children in grades 2 - 5. We argue that cross-language associations are likely to vary in part as a function of the construct under study (e.g. syntax vs. lexicon), and as a function of how those constructs get operationalized, or measured.
We looked at how two Spanish language components (syntax and vocabulary knowledge) predict 5th grade English language (vocabulary, syntax, semantics, morphology) and reading. We also examined whether Spanish language predicted 2nd through 5th development in these constructs. Spanish syntax was predictive of all English outcomes in 5th grade, while Spanish vocabulary was not predictive. Spanish syntax was also associated with growth in English semantics. The point being that it does seem to matter what constructs are used and how they are operationalized from a theoretical and methodological perspective. Instructionally, these relationships are not uni-directional, and the fact that Spanish syntax predicts English has instructional implications for thinking about cross-lingustic comparisons to develop general syntactic knowledge which is an accepted component of most models of reading comprehension.
After 12 years, I am not sure if I'll be doing this kind of work in the future, so here is the .pdf if you are interested.
I just gave a talk with my colleague Samantha Daley at the American Psychological Association (title above). We addressed issues of digital technologies, literacy development, and bilingualism in the context of increasing ubiquity of digital affordances, and what that means for instruction in the elementary and middle school grades. We targeted 3 dimensions of affordances that digital technologies provide in the current era:
●Supporting learner to access text content accounting for maximum learner variability (e.g., text-to-speech, speech-to-text)
○Potential barriers: e.g., visual impairments, decoding challenges
○Leveraging existing capabilities: e.g., alternative modalities
●Getting the learner to metacognitively process language and literacy to better understand their relation to learning and comprehension (e.g., embedded vocabulary supports or comprehension strategy applications)
○Potential barriers: e.g., emergent English proficiency
○Leveraging existing knowledge: e.g., native language proficiency
●Getting the learner to internalize learning, to feel expert and engaged in the content (e.g., motivation, self-efficacy)
○Potential barriers: e.g., limited reading proficiency
○Leveraging existing knowledge: e.g., high-interests texts
Our powerpoint is here. The video will be posted soon on the APA website.
Recently the MA senate joined the House to pass legislation undoing 15 years of English-only mandate in this state. They still need to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions, but this is the closest we've come in this state to overturning what has amounted to a violation of bilingual students' linguistic rights and school districts' abilities to implelent language education policies that align with their specific needs. The law on the books now is from 2002 but draws a direct line with the kind of xenophonic and nationalistic rhetoric that defines our present day politics. It is a good thing that this might pass. It is a truly sad thing that this is not done yet (first house-senate reconciliation then Governor Baker muat sign). For more than an academic generation we have dealt with the painful implications of this law. Here's to its undoing.
As of June 2017, the Lynch School has provided 3 years of funding for us to develop the Teaching Dual Language Learners (TDLL) micro credential program. This short sequence of courses prepares elementary or reading specialist licensure candidates to teach in both monolingual and bilingual instructional settings. Click here to see current requirements for the TDLL. We have been funded to add two new courses: Foundations of Dual Language Education and Bilingual Literacy and Literature. These are being developed this summer, and are set to be brought to our Educational Policy Committee for approval in the Fall 2017. We expect to have a fully functional TDLL program, alongside a masters in multilingual education, in Fall 2018. This aligns with the (hopeful) and coming expansion of bilingual programming here in Massachusetts, per recent reporting by the Boston Globe. Stay tuned!
The research teams at University of Maryland and Boston College are finishing up the field trial of the Comprehension, Linguistic Awareness, and Vocabulary in English and Spanish (and Portuguese!), aka, CLAVES. Over 2 years our teams worked to develop a 3-unit, multi-lesson curriculum that targets language development via text reading, metalinguistic awareness, and small-group discussions. We'll be assessing implementation effects over the summer after data are collected, but here is a link to our implementation site, with a link to one of the CLAVES lesson sequences.
Beginning the 2017 - 2018 academic year, I'll be taking over directorship of the Curriculum and Instruction doctoral program at the Lynch School of Education at Boston College. If you have any interest in learning more about the program, please email me!
Nelson Flores recently posted "5 guidelines for white people who speak Spanish to consider when deciding when it may or may not be appropriate for them to use Spanish with Latinxs in the US". They are (see Dr. Flores' post for elaboration on each of these):
1) Mock Spanish is not Spanish
2) Not all Latinxs speak Spanish
3) Not all Latinxs who speak Spanish want to use Spanish with white people
4) Don’t expect Latinxs to be your Spanish teacher
5) Being bilingual doesn’t automatically make you an ally to the Latinx community
These are all critical and important dimensions of which White native English speaking Spanish speakers ought to be aware, but I am not sure they help me decide when specifically it is appropriate for me, a white English-Spanish bilingual (who speaks more than mock Spanish), to speak Spanish to Latinxs in the US. I don't pretend to know the answer here, but with critical humility, I offer a second set of guidelines, that are undergirded by Dr. Flores' 5 above. I try to mindful of these when I consider whether to speak Spanish to Latinxs in the US:
1) If I am spoken to in Spanish by a Latinx in the US, who I do not know, I will converge to Spanish, or feel free to do so. Otherwise, I typically use English as a default. There are some contextual exceptions, but this is the general rule.
2) If, in that default, it is clear that my Latinx interlocutor is emergent in their English proficiency, then I will often say something in Spanish as an overture to bilingualism. The nonverbal and verbal responses here tell everything about whether the person would rather switch to Spanish or remain in English. Or it sets up the possibility to translanguage as the conversation continues;
3) If I have a close friend or colleague with whom I have developed a dynamic linguistic relationship, I feel free to speak in English, Spanish, or translanguage as the situation/topic warrants;
English is the language of centralized and institutionalized power here in the US. We leverage it in schools, employment, civic engagement. Spanish and other languages are deliberately and conspicuously minoritized (see this recent reaction to bilingual communication in Arizona), which can make it easy for the do-gooder White bilingual to think that just because they speak Spanish they should because it legitimizes bilingualism, and/or elevates Spanish. Dr. Flores, particularly in his disdain of Tim Kaine's obsequious use of Spanish on the campaign trail, makes the important point that it is not this simple, and that White, native English speaking Spanish-speakers have a responsibility that goes beyond embracing the "celebrate diversity" model of bilingualism.
Recently at a block party on my street, I was talking with a Latinx neighbor and his spouse, both of whom I knew to be fluent Spanish speakers, but with whom I had only ever spoken English (per #1 above). However, my neighbor's Venezuelan mother was visiting and attending the event. She spoke very little English. My friend introduced me to her in English (he didn't know I spoke Spanish), and she said hi to me. I asked her how long she was visiting for, in English, and was met with silence. I repeated, "Cuánto tiempo estará Ud. visitando?", o algo asi. This began a 30-minute conversation, in Spanish, that allowed us to learn more about one another, and for me to learn more about my neighbor (#2 above). That conversation that would have been impossible in English. My friend and his wife also learned that day that I speak Spanish. Now, with them, the default language is still English, but a translanguaging precedent was set (#3 above), which gave me some important insights about when it is appropriate to speak Spanish with Latinxs in the US. Thanks to Nelson Flores!
the Claves curriculum website is live!
Also check out the book at Guilford Press
I am an associate professor in the Lynch School of Education at Boston College, and director of the Curriculum & Instruction doctoral program. I serve as an associate editor at Applied Psycholinguistics, and an editor at Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools. I was a bilingual teacher in Detroit, MI and have worked in district, state, and nonprofit settings. I work with bilingual learners from multilingual homes in K-8 settings, thinking about language use and development, cross-linguistic relations, instructional interventions, and teacher practice. I've published a bunch of articles and book chapters, and have developed language and reading curricula. I always work in close collaboration with teachers to facilitate the translation of research to practice.