This term, I’m teaching a graduate course called Educational Sociolinguistics and we’re blogging (the course blog is here). In the course, we explore social, cultural, and political dimensions of (second) language education, and there’s a lot of resonance with what we write about here in the BILD community. The course blog is our public facing space for ongoing ‘sociolinguistic noticing.’ This is the practice of reflecting on connections between our own (and others’) language teaching and learning experiences and sociolinguistic issues (e.g., identity, social status, place, race, gender, language variation, language ideologies, multilingualism, language policy, etc.).
I’d like to respond to some of the questions that have come up recently in class and in the blog posts about monolingual vs. multilingual approaches to language education. In particular, there have been a number of questions about translanguaging pedagogy, something that was new to most ears in the class. This is an approach to language education that embraces the fluidity of language and rejects the notion that languages have to be kept strictly separate in order to be learned. I’m sure we all have memories of being punished for speaking the ‘wrong’ language in class – translanguaging pedagogy starts off with the premise that learners come to class with rich and diverse linguistic resources that can be drawn upon when learning, and counters the idea that learners must leave significant parts of themselves outside the class in order to learn.
My students have been asking some really good questions:
- What does translanguaging pedagogy look like?
- What can it look like?
- Does it really lead to better learning of the target language?
- Does it mean that teachers need to know all the languages of their learners?
- How can teachers deal with and address all the diversity in their classes?
- How can we implement a curriculum that helps all learners?
I’m going to do that thing that teachers do and answer their questions with more questions and a tangential story. I’m doing that because the questions my students are asking do not have simple or clear-cut answers. They are rich inquiry questions that should be muddled with and reflected on every time we connect with a new group of learners and encounter all the individualities among that group.
Let’s step back and consider what the role of the teacher is in teaching. I am pretty sure we can all agree that learning is not a one-way street, where teachers are the knowledge holders and learners are the passive recipients of that knowledge. So, do teachers need to know everything in order to be effective teachers? Students always know things that teachers don’t know! Learners’ knowledge is not always privileged, but why not? I think the answer to this has more to do with control and ideas about what it means to be a teacher (i.e., as knowledge provider) than it does with soundness of pedagogy. So, to understand translanguaging pedagogy, we first have to let go of the idea that teachers are the sole expert knowledge holders of their subject matter and instead embark on a learning journey with our students, where we approach differences and ambiguities with openness, respect, and honest curiosity.
Translanguaging pedagogy is founded on a conception of learning as co-constructed and locally and socially situated. This leads me to another question (in response to the questions above): what do we mean by curriculum? I have long been inspired by the work of the late Canadian curriculum theorist Ted Aoki, and the distinction he makes between curriculum-as-planned (i.e., curriculum as documents, often imposed from bodies outside the local context of the classroom) and curriculum-as-lived (i.e., the moment to moment interactions we engage in) (see Aoki, 2004). Translanguaging pedagogy can be reflected in a written curriculum document, but it is often expressed in the lived moments of teaching as teachers respond to their learners and as learners interact with each other. Translanguaging pedagogy is about creating an ethos in which learners feel legitimate and legitimized, where they feel a sense of belonging, and where they feel safe taking the risks that are necessary to learn a language. There are many ways for this to play out in actual practice. I’ll share one story and invite you to join in and share your own.
A number of years ago, I was teaching English as an additional language to a group of adult learners in Quebec, who were taking a government-sponsored program to re-train for a new profession. One of my students was a woman who had recently moved to Quebec from Mexico. She was taking the “francisation” program (free French courses for new immigrants to Quebec) at the same time that she was taking my English course. On the first day of class, I could see that she was very anxious. I put the students in pairs and asked them to introduce themselves to each other. This gave me a chance to walk around the class and visit with the pairs. When I came to her, she started to tell me about her partner. Her words came out in a mixture of English, Spanish, and French. Her response? She slapped herself in the face. She had such a deep-rooted belief that her other languages were ‘bad’ and ‘unacceptable’ in English class that she physical hurt herself. So, I spoke to her in Spanish. Her body relaxed. I told her, in Spanish, that she must have a lot going on right now, trying to learn French and English at the same time, and feeling that she needed to keep all the language categories separate. That moment of acknowledgement made a huge difference and set the tone for an open and safe learning environment. Over time, she stopped hitting herself when she’d say a word in French or Spanish instead of English. Instead, she’d pause and smile at me. We had an understanding. She was a person with multiple and many linguistic resources who was highly motivated to learn English. During the course, she developed a lot of confidence in her English and that paved the way for excellent progress in her learning. I am wholly convinced that this would not have been the outcome had I enforced an English-only policy in my class.
Translanguaging pedagogy is not about a one-size-fits-all prescription of how best to be a teacher, but most importantly about our own attitudes towards local and individual human interactions and how as teachers, these attitudes can open spaces for our students rather than close them.
I’d love to hear your stories, too.
Aoki, T. (2004). Teaching as in-dwelling between two curriculum worlds. Spinning inspirited images in the midst of planned and live(d) curricula.” In Pinar, W. F. & Irwin, R.L. (Eds.), Curriculum in a new key: The collected works of Ted T. Aoki (pp. 159-166). Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.