Ingrid T. Colón argues that self-examination is critical for dual-language educators
Historically, in the U.S., deficit perspectives about linguistically diverse students have dominated the conversation. Fortunately, the rise of dual-language (DL) programs is helping to reframe the dominant narrative. These programs center on helping students become bilingual, biliterate, and culturally competent. Because of these goals, DL teachers must not only know about strategies and practicesthat promote bilingualism and biliteracy but also how to think about their own perspectives and teaching practices that will influence the way they prepare students for success in a global economy and society.
A new article published online in the Revista de Sociología de la Educación explores the importance of DL teacher preparation and professional development to explicitly address self-examination—the process of reflecting on one’s own actions and motivations—in shaping the curriculum and instructional processes. In this article, Dr. Cristina Alfaroand Dr. Ana Hernándezdescribe the role of the four tenets for self-examination—ideology, pedagogy, access, and equity (IPAE)—and what they mean for DL teachers. Moreover, the authors have developed a guide with questions on the four tenets of self-examination.
The authors argue that DL teachers must understand the ideologies that control their classroom practices, such as the dominance of the English language in instruction. This is important because assimilationist environments in schools prioritize monolingual—only in English—teaching practices. Practices like this one are why DL teachers need to constantly self-examine and reflect on their own ideologies. DL teachers can ask themselves important questions like:
What beliefs, values, and theories of knowledge influence my thoughts?
What kind of teacher do I want to be?
What kind of changes do I need to implement in my teaching practices to promote my students’ bicultural, bilingual, and biliterate identities?
It is critical to have a pedagogical perspective that focuses on recognizing the knowledge that both students and teachers contribute in the classroom. In other words, DL teachers who have a clear understanding of their ideologies and engage in critical reflection create intentional, student-centered teaching practices. DL teachers can engage in this critical reflection about their teaching practices by asking questions like:
What kinds of values and research dictate my teaching practices?
How do I show respect toward the cultural and linguistic richness of my students?
Have I created an environment open for dialog inside my classroom or do I only transmit knowledge to my students?
It is fundamental for DL teachers to examine student access to high-quality curricula, teaching, and resources. This means that DL teachers need additional and authentic resources in Spanish––not just literal translations from English––and training to develop effective teaching strategies that ensure access to academic opportunities for all students, particularly those who are most vulnerable. DL teachers can reflect on these issues by asking questions like:
Which students do I choose first to answer learning questions?
Am I strategically creating access for all of my students?
Do I apply rigor and high expectations for all of my students?
It is necessary to create equitable environments that provide opportunities for all students to meet their goals in DL classrooms. For instance, research shows that school events and practices conducted only in English send the message to students that the English language is superior to the Spanish language.
DL teachers who use an equity lens in their classrooms create democratic, safe classrooms and elevate the status of the Spanish language during instruction. DL teachers can examine equity in their classroom practices by asking themselves the following questions:
How do I navigate the status of culture and language in my classroom?
How do my students perceive the English language?
In what way does the dominant language or group influence the activities in the classroom and school?
Taken together, DL programs strive to foster an environment of cross-cultural exchange. It is difficult for DL teachers to enhance the status of the Spanish language in their classrooms due to the way the English language is viewed in this country––as the language of power.
Research indicates that during Spanish instruction, students spend most of the time speaking in English rather than Spanish. This is a cause for concern because when English takes priority in bilingual programs it diminishes the status of Spanish, thus negatively affecting and undermining the linguistic richness that native Spanish-speaking students bring to DL classrooms.
To implement linguistic equity in their classrooms, DL teachers need to be conscious of the preference that has been given to the English language in this country. It is not enough for students to work on projects in Spanish (e.g., group work) if these assignments are not intentionally planned for students to communicate academically in Spanish. Therefore, DL teachers need to internalize the value and purpose of learning the Spanish language in their classrooms first before being able to motivate their students to communicate in Spanish.
The authors of this article address very important issues. As DL programs keep growing across the nation and the gentrification of bilingual education persists, it is worth emphasizing that DL teachers will need to know more than technical and biliteracy methodology. DL teachers also need to know how to critically reflect on what they do, what they believe, and what influences their teaching practices. This is pivotal because DL teachers serve linguistically and culturally diverse students in their classrooms who are not white, do not speak English as their first language, and/or do not benefit from a high socioeconomic status (SES).
Reflection is an increasingly fundamental part of teaching. Although it can be difficult for teachers to find the time to critically reflect on their classroom practices, school leaders can advocate for opportunities that are intentionally offered for teachers to engage in reflection, such as professional learning communities (PLCs). Certainly, reflection can become part of teachers’ routine when it is already embedded in the curriculum, instruction, evaluation, and preparation time for teachers. Eventually, critically reflecting on teaching becomes more natural and habitual as teachers gain more experience in their classrooms.
Ingrid T. Colón is a researcher in the area of English learner education for New America’s Education Policy program. As a proud immigrant from El Salvador and an English learner herself, Colón focuses her research on the experiences of recently arrived immigrant families and their children in public schools, English learners, linguistically and culturally responsive classrooms, and dual-language education.