Reflecting on Multilingual Adolescent/Adult Literacy

Here’s an idea I am interested in pulling on–one of the first claims that Escamilla (2009) problematizes from the NLP Report on Language-Minority Children and Youth:

“In reviewing the research, the authors found that research on language-minority students’ literacy development has some parallels with the findings in research on monolingual literacy development” (p. 434).

Escamilla goes on to introduce a recurring concern she has throughout this piece: the normalization of monolingualism. In comparing the literacy development of language-minority youth to that of their native English peers, the authors frame their development as being atypical–a deficit-based perspective that shapes perspectives of their development from the start. As Escamilla builds on this critique further in later sections, what stood out to me was the problematic nature of arguing that “good teaching is good teaching.” When I read this, I thought about my experience with SIOP training and being a SIOP trainer–and being coached to talk about SIOP as being good for all students, but necessary for ELs, or emergent bilinguals. When I think back to this through Escamilla’s lens, I am troubled by this oversimplification of what effective teaching for emergent bilinguals looks like (and regret buying into this).

Considering all this in relation to the studies conducted by Hirvela and Du (2013) and Derwing and Munro (2013) helps to illuminate ways in which perspectives around language and literacy learning for emergent bilinguals have fallen into similar traps as the perspectives around language and literacy learning in general. Essentially, attempts have been made to identify what is normative and similar between the language/literacy development of monolingual English-speaking youth and bi/multilingual students; as a result, deviations from what is considered typical or average development is viewed as failure, as a deficit as opposed to an advantage. And it does not take into consideration the myriad of complexities in language/literacy development among our linguistically-diverse students, such as the relationship between the affective factors that influence their willingness to engage in authentic speaking contexts and their language development (Derwing and Munro, 2013) or the purposes they assign to language strategies they are taught to navigate American rhetoric, like paraphrasing (Hirvela and Du, 2013). Consideration of these two studies and the complexities of language and literacy development for emergent bilinguals makes me wonder to what extent we should be extending bi/multi/translingual perspectives of language and literacy development to help us better understand the development of our so-called monolingual youth–as opposed to the other way around.

Texts for Consideration:
Escamilla, K. (2009). English language learners: Developing literacy in second-language learners—Report of the National Literacy Panel on Language-Minority Children and Youth. Journal of Literacy Research, 41(4), 432-452.
Hirvela, A., & Du, Q. (2013). “Why am I paraphrasing?”: Undergraduate ESL writers’ engagement with source-based academic writing and reading. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 12(2), 87-98.
Derwing, T. M., & Munro, M. J. (2013). The Development of L2 Oral Language Skills in Two L1 Groups: A 7‐Year Study.


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