The current sociopolitical landscape is rife with divisive language and policies that threaten culturally and linguistically diverse students. Now, more than ever, it is vital that educational scholars maintain a focus on social justice in every area of our work, inside and outside of the hallowed walls of academia. In my research, I am committed to pursuing questions of equity, engaging in researcher-practitioner collaboration, and working to enhance educational outcomes for emergent bilingual students through my scholarship and public engagement.
My research explores how language and literacy practices in bilingual learning contexts shape educational outcomes for linguistically and culturally diverse students. I am particularly interested in the extent to which two-way bilingual models are achieving their goals of bilingualism, biliteracy, and cross-cultural understanding. Despite the acclaimed benefits of two-way bilingual education (TWBE), recent scholarship cautions that these programs may be reinforcing the inequities they aim to combat. Frequently absent from critical analyses of two-way programs are the experiences of students: how they make sense of learning in two languages, how they negotiate (or resist) bilingual identities. My research contributes a critical perspective to contemporary conversations about two-way bilingual education by documenting extant ideologies of language and identity and engaging in participatory research with teachers and students to open up dialogic spaces toward the establishment of more equitable bilingual classrooms.
My dissertation study reflects this research agenda by examining how students experience be(com)ing bilingual across an academic year in a Wisconsin TWBE classroom. Taking into account the larger sociopolitical context, this study joins ethnographic and discourse analytic methods to map the local centripetal (centralizing) and centrifugal (decentralizing) discourses around bilingualism (Bakhtin, 1981). To begin, I analyzed local policy documents and interviewed community leaders to uncover “official” and local discourses around bilingualism and two-way immersion. Next, I spent a semester as a participant observer in a TWBE classroom, documenting classroom language and literacy practices and participation patterns. Finally, I collaborated with the classroom teacher to design a bilingual identity text project (Cummins & Early, 2011), aimed at promoting metalinguistic awareness and providing students the opportunity to reflect upon be(com)ing bilingual. All data was analyzed from a critical discourse analytic perspective that looks across speech events (Wortham & Reyes, 2015) to move beyond a two-level explanation of context (“macro” and “micro”) towards an exploration of situated and interconnected processes of social identification across time and space.
I argue that this two-way classroom fostered ‘identities of promise’ through ‘ideologies of difference.’ Across the year, students increasingly revealed asset-based understandings of their emerging bilingualism. The veteran teacher, herself a Mexican immigrant, created instructional and discursive spaces that affirmed Spanish(es) and Latinx identities. Spanish was the primary language of student-to-teacher and student-to-student interactions, noteworthy as previous studies have shown preference for English in peer interactions. At the same time, native English speakers dominated classroom discussions—even in Spanish—which had implications for who was perceived as having linguistic and academic expertise. Many students expressed a desire for increased time in English, often problematically framed as providing “the Spanish kids” with more English. Thus, while the classroom engendered unity around bilingualism (“We are all bilingual.”) and affirmed Spanish speakers, it often fell short of critical engagement with dominant ideologies of language and power.
Scholarship in the field of Second Language Acquisition has established that student “investment” (Norton, 2000) in language learning impacts the efficacy of bilingual programs; however, we have insufficient knowledge of how students in TWBE are interpreting and enacting broader ideologies around language and identity. Without deep understanding of students’ perspectives, we undervalue their role in fostering (or hindering) equitable learning spaces. Moreover, despite the paradigmatic shift towards more dynamic conceptions of bilingualism, much remains unknown about how these theories translate into practice in TWBE classrooms across distinct geographical contexts. My research reshapes our understanding of two-way spaces by proving that students are active sense-makers of their bilingual experiences who take ideological stances toward their own and others’ bilingualism. Through the bilingual book project, my study also shows how translanguaging pedagogies are differentially taken up in ways that support bilingual learning (facilitating cross-linguistic connections) but potentially further inequities (increasing the hegemony of English).
I came to this dissertation after conducting two TWBE pilot studies, one in Wisconsin and one in Mexico. I have a published article in Language and Education based on the Wisconsin study, which examines how translanguaging in TWBE both expands meaning-making opportunities and contributes to problematic power differentials in the classroom. I presented findings from the Mexico study at the 2017 conference of the American Association of Applied Linguistics (AAAL) and have a manuscript in preparation on classroom language brokering intended for the International Multilingual Research Journal (IMRJ). From my dissertation, I have a forthcoming chapter in the TIRF volume Global Perspectives on Educational Language Policies, which reveals the coexistence the competing local ideologies (bilingualism-as-a-problem, -resource, and –right) in this Wisconsin TWBE program. I also have forthcoming presentations on each of the three analytic chapters of my dissertation at the spring conferences of AAAL, AERA, and TESOL. Following these presentations, I will adapt these manuscripts for publication in the Modern Language Journal, Bilingual Research Journal, and Journal of Literacy Research, respectively.
States and districts around the nation continue to invest large sums of time, money, and resources into TWBE programs. Much of the extant literature on two-way education focuses on language use and proficiency without specific attention to the relationship between language ideologies and classroom discourse practices. Furthermore, little is known about how students in TWBE are developing reading and writing proficiency in Spanish. My research yields deeper understanding of the practices and ideologies that shape student investment in be(com)ing bilingual and provides evidence for the need for increased understanding of how language and literacy practices are shaping educational outcomes and equity in bilingual education.