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Initial Thoughts on Translanguaging and Teaching Future TESOL Educators

I had my first meeting with the TE4 94 team this afternoon. It’s interesting teaching a class I’ve taken it before and to see how it has changed since I took a decade ago. Here are some of my thoughts about today:

First, I found it interesting to hear that TESOL is not really considered a separate subject area within the university or the state of Michigan. That explains so much about why ESL and TESOL have been relegated to the back burner within the educational context. It makes me wonder how the program could evolve here at MSU–or to see how maybe the state of Michigan could push this agenda forward and then see that trickle down to university setting.

It was also really fascinating to begin dialoguing about translanguaging in the more practical context of the course. Currently, my conceptualization of translanguaging is based on the idea that each individual has their own language system. Within each of our language systems “live” many things, the type of discourse we typically use, which most would call language. It also includes what Sandro explained are other semiotic signs (e.g., visuals). I also tend to think that this could include body language, music, or any of the other things around us that we used to make sense of the world. They don’t even necessarily need to be used for communication with others. They could simply be used within ourselves to build schema and store ideas.

If we think about each individual having their own language system in this way, then it no longer makes sense to teach language in the way that we’ve been doing it, where we give power to one supposedly superior form of English discourse over another, which then de-prioritizes another language system–and disempowers its users. This has implications for emerging bilinguals as well as others whose individual language practices or systems may have more differences than similarities with what is considered more standard or legit than other systems within society–hence delegitimizing the language (and identities) of the Other.

From a practical standpoint as an educator this means that I can look at each of my individual students as having his or her own language system; my responsibility is not to “give” them my variation of English, but to build opportunities where they can co-construct meaning with their peers, our classroom texts and myself, which will help them develop their ability to co-construct meaning outside of the classroom. As an educator this also means that I have a responsibility to make this transparent to my students, so that they can navigate and negotiate these systems of power. This makes language learning a social justice issue (and many even a human rights concern).

On a separate, but related note, I think it’s also interesting to think about this in the context of personal relationships. When I am communicating with others or I am reflecting on my own experiences and perceptions, I’m negotiating meaning that may or may not align with the ways in which other people negotiate meaning. This makes clear why miscommunication happens–why people may think they have differing beliefs when really they have different vocabulary or different lexicon that they are using to talk about those believes.

In a similar vein, Sandro talked about his love for Paulo Freire and his belief that love is the great thing governing us all–regardless of what system or belief system is above all of that. I left his office thinking about the fact that like the complex communication system between trees and fungi, we have learned to communicate with each other in order to share resources and build capacity to survive.

And this is what I would call love. It is the desire to survive together. It is the desire to connect. It is the desire to co-construct our lives together. So ultimately language is a vehicle for creating meaning within and between humans, which we might then call love. And then therefore, translanguaging is actually about survival.

Ideas for class:

  • Integrate instructional materials and strategies to model promising practices in working with emerging bilinguals
  • Offer opportunities for students to create visual or audio responses in certain cases instead of written responses
  • Create collaborative personal dictionary for terms from class
  • Find out what prior experiences students have had as well as what their other areas of interest are, where they hope to teach, what level they are planning to teach at, whether they know another language, and what their level of familiarity is with course concepts

Reflecting on CITE Orientation Day 1

It sounds like everybody showed up with a case of butterflies in their stomachs. I’m not surprised, because one would expect our group to be people who are used to being badasses and realizing that we will be in the company of other people like ourselves would make this even more intimidating. I know I have had a few moments over the past few months where I’ve wondered if I would be able to cut it.  Multiple times today, I heard a recurring message from faculty and veteran students: that we were indeed in the right seat in the right program and at the right school.

During the student panel this morning, Hannah started off by affirming that their mental health services available to us on campus. I thought this was such an interesting piece of advice to offer up first, and it made me think that the mental health of grad students in our program and maybe graduate students in general is of high concern. That’s also not altogether surprising given the monumental identity shift that happens when entering such a program as well as the huge workload, the new-found freedom and flexibility of our schedules, and a vast amounts of newness to jumping into such a program.

One of the pieces of advice that I’m going to keep tucked away is reminding myself of Hannah’s picture, that we are all walking through a field of grass. Those of us in our first year are just starting out, and we can see others in front of us in the field of grass. But once we’re in that field, the only thing we can see is our own path. What I take away from Hannah’s metaphor as well as the advice of others who mentioned similar things is that the path I am embarking on is my own. As was mentioned by one of the faculty members, the COE and the CITE program is not a matter of having a one-size-fits-all curriculum and program for everyone. Each of us literally has our own curriculum and our own path to follow. And so that means we can’t compare ourselves with each other in the context of the program as well as our future careers. We should also be more kind to ourselves then we often are, because perhaps the path we think we should be following based on unrealistic expectations is not really the right path at all.

I’m very grateful that over the past 5 to 6 years I have spent a lot of time thinking about how to be kinder to myself. I’ve learned how to practice equanimity, although I’m not perfect at it. I have learned how to seek out balance, even though I frequently find myself in a state of unbalance. All of these things I think are going to help make this year a lot easier of a transition. There’s no doubt in my mind that it will be difficult. And I know myself, and I am probably already biting off more than I can chew. But I also know that I can do it. And I know that I’m going to benefit tremendously from taking on these challenges.

As I move forward, I need to be very conscientious about how my time is allotted, how I am balancing my time to stay healthy, and how to recognize moments when I should say no, even if I think the opportunities offered are going to be extremely beneficial for me. Ultimately, this is only the beginning of a very long career that I expect to have an academia. So if I don’t have the opportunity to do something now, I may very well have the chance to do it in the next five years. Or I may elect to pursue it after I am out of my program and into a career.

I’m so incredibly grateful and honored that I have the opportunity to pursue this program. I feel empowered to do well knowing that it has such a strong presence within the world of academia, and obviously has very reflective people at the helm who are receptive to taking others opinions into consideration.

As I walk away from today, I feel a little overwhelmed by the possibility of doing so many different things. And when I say that I don’t mean having lots of different opportunities. I mean having a lot of different research interests, and having an avenue to pursue that those interests. Part of me is very interested in thinking about promoting equity in education on an international scale. Part of me is also super passionate about thinking about promoting equity within the United States. And obviously this is all tied very closely to thinking about language and literacy and how these open doors for people, doors that might be closed without access to what is perceived as privileged in language and education. I wonder how these things can go hand-in-hand.

In helping other educators become more effective language and literacy practitioners, I tend to think that I will be learning a lot about how to help educators be vulnerable in their teaching practices and to take risks. I also tend to think that I will be thinking a lot about ways in which educators can honor the capital that students enter the classroom with, whether that’s linguistically, culturally, ethnically, etc. I wonder about the possibilities for promoting this sort of perspective in classrooms not just in the United States, but potentially around the world.

I know I have privileged English in my mind as an ESL educator. I’ve also been aware of that and have framed it in terms of thinking about English as the lingua franca and about how to make that system very transparent to my students so that they can access and engage within it in order to get ahead without compromising their identities, native languages, or home cultures. I wonder about the potential for translanguaging to shift perspectives around how people utilize language, and the ways in which changing those perspectives can promote a classroom context that is more affirming and supportive of students rather than to devaluing what they bring to the classroom.

When I think about the work I want to do in this way, it does not seem unrealistic to transfer this to other language contacts, other countries, or international schools. Something to keep chewing on.

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What is said

In the blank spaces

Between two chapters,

Empty, but filled with

Possibility and wonder.

What is said

Amidst a pregnant pause

In a conversation,

Empty, but fill with

Anticipation and hurried thoughts.

What is said

During moments of waiting

For a letter or proposal or a first day,

Empty, but filled with

Nervous energy deep in the belly.

What is said

Next to a quiet phone

The silence speaking volumes,

Empty, but filled with

Infinite spiraling realities in our minds.

What is said between two held hands

In welcome and farewell,

Empty, but filled with

The tight squeeze of hope.

What is said

In front of a closed door,

A threshold between here or there,

Empty, but filled with

The weight of choice.

Daily Links (weekly)

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