NCTE

Supporting Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Learners in English Education

Preamble

As public intellectuals and agents of change, we recognize that English teachers and teacher educators are complicit in the reproduction of racial and socioeconomic inequality in schools and society. Through critical, self-reflexive practices embedded in our research and our teaching, we can work against racial, cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic inequalities by creating humane classrooms where students and teachers learn to use language and literacy in critical and empowering ways.

Toward these ends, we have assembled a document that states our beliefs and recommendations for action. This document is built upon our values and democratic sensibilities in addition to a generation of literacy research conducted via multiple methods on cultural and linguistic diversity inside and outside of schools.

Structure and Scope of the Document

We intend this document to provide teachers and teacher educators with a philosophical and practical base for developing literacy classrooms that meet the needs of linguistically and culturally diverse learners. Accordingly, we will first briefly enumerate our eight principles and then follow with a more detailed discussion about and expansion of each principle, particularly in terms of what each means for literacy and literacy education classrooms. This expansion includes an unpacking of the belief followed by a chart of suggestions and resources for K-12 teachers, teacher educators, and researchers. Although not comprehensive—given space and time, we could have easily added more ideas and resources—this document represents what we consider to be a minimum philosophical outline for supporting learners whose cultures and language fall outside the boundaries of mainstream power codes. Additionally, all suggestions made for teachers and teacher educators, with some adapting, can work in nearly any classroom.

Eight Beliefs for Supporting Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Learners in English Education

We believe that . . .

  1. Teachers and teacher educators must respect all learners and themselves as individuals with culturally defined identities.
  2. Students bring funds of knowledge to their learning communities, and, recognizing this, teachers and teacher educators must incorporate this knowledge and experience into classroom practice.
  3. Socially responsive and responsible teaching and learning requires an anthropologically and ethnographically informed teaching stance; teachers and teacher educators must be introduced to and routinely use the tools of practitioner/teacher research in order to ask difficult questions about their practice.
  4. Students have a right to a variety of educational experiences that help them make informed decisions about their role and participation in language, literacy, and life.
  5. Educators need to model culturally responsive and socially responsible practices for students.
  6. All students need to be taught mainstream power codes/discourses and become critical users of language while also having their home and street codes honored.
  7. Teachers and teacher educators must be willing to cross traditional personal and professional boundaries in pursuit of social justice and equity.
  8. Teaching is a political act, and in our preparation of future teachers and citizens, teachers and teacher educators need to be advocates for and models of social justice and equity.

The Beliefs Expanded

Belief 1: Respect for All Learners

Teachers and teacher educators must respect all learners and themselves as individuals with culturally defined identities.

We recognize the uniqueness of all cultures, languages and communities. As teachers and teacher educators, we understand the increasing cultural and linguistic diversity of our society and that we enter our classrooms with our own social identities and cultural biases. We see all classrooms as multicultural, and we work towards respecting, valuing, and celebrating our own and students’ unique strengths in creating equitable classroom communities.

Belief 2: Funds of Knowledge

Students bring funds of knowledge to their learning communities, and, recognizing this, teachers and teacher educators must incorporate this knowledge and experience into classroom practice.

Students do not enter school as empty vessels to be filled with knowledge. Rather, they bring with them rich and varied language and cultural experiences. All too often, these experiences remain unrecognized or undervalued as dominant mainstream discourses suppress students’ cultural capital (Bourdieu, 1990). Ethnographic research conducted inside and outside of schools reveals rich language and literacy practices that often go unnoticed in classrooms (Dyson, 2005; Fisher, 2003; Heath, 1983; Mahiri, 2004). When teachers successfully incorporate texts and pedagogical strategies that are culturally and linguistically responsive, they have been able to increase student efficacy, motivation, and academic achievement (Lee, 2001; Ladson-Billings, 1994).

For these reasons, we believe that teachers and teacher educators should actively acknowledge, celebrate, and incorporate these funds of knowledge (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1994) into classroom practice. In addition, teachers need spaces to learn about the communities in which they will teach. This includes opportunities to explore and experience the contexts in which students live and form their cultural identities. Educators also need to learn more about sociolinguistics both in teacher preparation programs and in ongoing professional development. Developing this kind of knowledge may help to avoid linguistic racism or language marginalization (Delpit & Kilgour Dowdy, 2003; Gee, 1996; Gutierrez, Asato, Pachco, Moll, Olsen, Horng, Ruiz, Garcia, & McCarty, 2002; Perry & Delpit, 1998; Smitherman, 1999)

Belief 3: Inquiring into Practice

Socially responsive and responsible teaching and learning requires an anthropologically and ethnographically informed teaching stance; teachers and teacher educators must be introduced to and routinely use the tools of practitioner/teacher research in order to ask difficult questions about their practice.

To empower students who have been traditionally disenfranchised by public education, teachers and teacher educators must learn about and know their students in more complex ways (e. g., MacGillivray, Rueda, Martinez, 2004; Ladson-Billings, 1994). They must be learners in their own classrooms (Michie, 1999). Using the tools of classroom-based research to develop more complex profiles of their students, teachers and teacher educators can use their growing knowledge of the lives and cultures of these students to design appropriate teaching methodologies and curriculum. Developing these tools would require new ways of collecting and analyzing information about students and their families, and then reflecting upon the appropriateness of their curriculum and practices to be more effective educators. Consequently, such investigation would mean using or creating new lenses to interrogate the impact of one’s own teaching and planning. These lenses might involve designing methods for getting ongoing feedback from students and their families and responding to that feedback. Ultimately such reflective work implies that teachers and teacher educators have a right to choose, create, appraise, and critique their own responsive and responsible teaching and learning curriculum.

Belief 4: Variety of Educational Experience

Students have a right to a wide variety and range of high quality critical educational experiences that help them make informed decisions about their role and participation in language, literacy, and life.

A wide variety and range of high quality critical educational experiences should be centered in learning environments and educational curricula that affirm children’s language and rich cultural identities. At the same time, these experiences should lead students to build a deep awareness and understanding for the many forms of language, literacies and varying lifestyles that exist in their communities and in the world. Curricula experiences should serve to empower students, develop their identities and voice, and encourage student agency to improve their life opportunities. A range and variety of high quality critical literacy practices will create opportunities for high student engagement and capitalize on their multiple learning styles and diverse identities and personalities. When contexts for learning resonate with purposeful and meaningful activities that touch learners’ emotional wellspring, deep learning occurs, making deficit views of teaching and learning unviable and untenable.

Belief 5: Modeling Practice

Educators need to model culturally responsive and socially responsible practices for students.

When English educators model culturally responsive practices they explicitly acknowledge and incorporate students’ funds of knowledge. Modeling effective teaching practices involves building on and consciously referring to the knowledge base of said practices. The process of modeling depends on carefully planned demonstrations, experiences, and activities. As part of this process, educators help students collectively examine experiences in light of their own learning, knowledge, and goals. These discussions may help learners not only develop language for how or if experiences support learning, but also will aid in identifying experiences that help learners examine whose English “counts” and in what contexts.

Belief 6: Critical Users of Language

All students need to be taught mainstream power codes and become critical users of language while also having their home and street codes honored.

English language arts teachers live a contradiction. We find ourselves charged to teach native speakers and second language learners alike. Yet, according to contemporary research, native speakers know all of the rules of their native dialect (typically by the time they enter public schools at the age of five or six), and second language learners need not so much instruction, but immersion. Ultimately we know both groups and, indeed, all language users have a right to be informed about and practiced in the dialect of the dominant culture, also mythologized as “Standard English.” Teachers are responsible for giving all students the tools and resources to access the Language of Wider Communication, both spoken and written. However, it is not enough to just “teach” the mainstream power codes; teachers need to foster ongoing and critical examinations with their students of how particular codes came into power, why linguistic apartheid exists, and how even their own dialectical and slang patterns are often appropriated by the dominant culture. Thus, our dilemma: how do we offer both groups ample opportunities to learn and practice their usage of this “prestige dialect” while at the same time recognizing the communicative equality and linguistic validity of their home dialects and languages? This document seeks to provide an answer, additional resources, and questions in answering that charge.

Belief 7: Crossing Cultural Boundaries

Teachers and teacher educators must be willing to cross traditional, personal and professional boundaries in pursuit of social justice and equity.

While there are discussions about whether “we” can or cannot teach “others,” the fact remains that English educators do just that every day. There is and will continue to be a disparity between the racial, socioeconomic, and cultural backgrounds of English educators and their students. Whereas the percentage of white female English educators—estimated at about 85-90 per cent—in U.S. schools has remained constant (Snyder & Hoffman, 2002), the students with whom they work have and will continue to become increasingly diverse. Teacher candidates will need to understand and acknowledge racial and socioeconomic inequities that exist and that schools perpetuate.

As part of their teacher education, they will need to acknowledge the limits of their personal knowledge as well as experience the privileges afforded them by virtue of their race and class. Part of the curriculum for English educators will involve crossing personal boundaries in order to study, embrace and build understanding of “other.” The purpose of boundary crossing is not to simply have an experience with the “other,” but to use that experience to advocate for the advancement for all. While the stereotypical demographic teacher population of the white, middle-class, female will often have to cross more distinct boundaries, other preservice teachers who are more linguistically, culturally, racially, and socioeconomically aligned with the growing diverse student population will have to engage in “making the strange familiar, and making the familiar strange.”

Ultimately, teacher candidates will need to engage in projects that allow them to study their lives as a way to recognize their limits and to complement the work they will do in crossing personal boundaries. This may involve learning language, studying culture, and visiting with students and their families. In short, we can’t do what we’ve always done because we don’t have the same students we had before (Kansas National Education Association, 2003).

Belief 8: Teaching as a Political Act

Teaching is a political act, and in our preparation of future teachers and citizens, teachers and teacher educators need to be advocates for and models of social justice and equity.

We recognize that teachers and teacher educators have the potential to function as change agents in their classrooms, schools, and communities. Social justice-oriented teachers and teacher educators play a significant role in seeking alternative ways to address various forms of official knowledge with their students, especially forms of official knowledge that marginalize certain groups while privileging others. We also believe that effective literacy teachers of diverse students envision their classrooms as sites of struggle and transformative action in the service of academic literacy development and social change.

Towards these ends, we recognize the importance of employing a critical lens when engaging preservice and inservice teachers, a lens that enables these teachers to understand and value a stance toward literacy teaching that also promotes critical consciousness, social justice, and equity. Through praxis, the combination of active reflection and reflective action (Freire, 1970), teachers and teacher educators are able to build and strengthen collective efforts toward individual and social transformation. Our desire is for teachers and teacher educators to continue to expand relevant course materials, activities, methods, and experience in serving diverse students in the 21st century in the pursuit of equity, achievement, and justice.

References and Additional Recommendations

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This document was created in part as a result of the 2005 Conference on English Education Leadership and Policy Summit, Suzanne Miller, CEE Chair, and Dana L. Fox, CEE Leadership and Policy Summit Chair.

Participants and authors in the “Supporting Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Learners in English Education” thematic strand group of the CEE Summit included:

If you wish to send a response to this CEE belief statement, please email cee@ncte.org [2] and specify which statement you are commenting on in the Subject of your email.