In my teaching, I strive to foster an active learning environment that challenges students to critically analyze their worlds through praxis-oriented activities, those that bridge practice and theory toward transformative change. As an educational linguist, I provide opportunities for students to explore the theoretical, empirical, and practical implications of language-in-education, to consider how language shapes educational outcomes and how they, as scholars, educators and school leaders, can create and sustain culturally and linguistically responsive classrooms.
I teach my students to move beyond conceptualizing language as a series of rules to identify how language is used and enacted (i.e., its functions and forms) in particular, situated contexts. Through this lens, students critically analyze the relationship between language and schooling. For example, in my course Language Use & Acquisition in Early Childhood, students conducted a linguistic case study of an emergent bilingual student in their practicum classrooms, in which they documented the (trans)languaging practices of the focal learner, analyzed the classroom ecology to consider how it promoted or inhibited language learning, and conducted a home visit with the student’s family to better understand language use outside of the classroom. This case study situated language learning in real-life contexts and fostered rich dialogue around the structural and sociopolitical facets of language use and learning. One year, a student learned on the home visit that her focal learner, whose family had recently immigrated from Ethiopia, had been misidentified as an ‘English learner,’ as the family exclusively used English at home. This finding led to a fruitful conversation about the impact of institutional labels, the intersection between race and language, and the sociopolitical construction of the ‘native speaker.’ I have found that, through this form of critical examination of language learning in real-life contexts, theory becomes more meaningful for students and implications for practice more visible.
As another example, I begin each of my ESL methods courses with the question posed by de Jong and Harper (2005): “Is ESL just good teaching?” Then, we consider what additional knowledge teachers need to support emergent bilinguals, beginning with a linguistic analysis of textbooks and assessments currently used in their classrooms. As we deconstruct the lexical, syntactic, and discourse-level elements of texts, students begin to see the complexity of English, which helps to deepen their investment in planning for language in instruction. In small groups, students participate in a lesson planning workshop in which they analyze and justify proposed language scaffolds in their integrated lesson plans. This collaborative process illuminates the connections between second language acquisition theories and instructional practices and helps foster student expertise in designing scaffolds for emergent bilinguals. At the end of the semester, students create digital stories that represent their learning, which is a favorite assignment for many—one student even played her digital story at a graduation party. By engaging in collaborative and ongoing reflection, students develop a critical lens that helps them to be more culturally and linguistically responsive educators.
In closing, as a teacher educator, I take seriously the task of modeling effective pedagogical strategies and engaging my students in critical analyses of language and education. This is evident in my course evaluations. As one student put it, “Laura truly believes in the content she is teaching and sees it from a wider perspective of social justice.” By preparing my students to not only support emergent bilinguals but also to deconstruct institutional, structural, and linguistic inequities, I aim to give students them the tools they need to become thoughtful and sociopolitically engaged educators.
- Foundations for Multilingual Education
- Methods for ESL / Bilingual Education
- Linguistics and Language Acquisition
- Approaches to Content Literacies for Diverse Learners
- Research Methods in Bilingual Education
- Language Use & Acquisition for Young Emergent Bilinguals
- The Language of Schooling
- Learning Second Languages
- Contrastive Analysis of English and Spanish
- Cross-Cultural Approaches to Learning
- Language Immersion in a Foreign Country