Dual Language Bilingual Education Implementation in Unprecedented Times: Issues of Equity Amidst the Coronavirus Pandemic

This month we published Dual Language Bilingual Education by Kathryn I. Henderson and Deborah K. Palmer. In this post the authors discuss the effects that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on dual language bilingual education.

Weeks ago when we agreed to write this blog post, we knew we wanted to connect the core messages of our book about teachers implementing dual language bilingual education (DLBE), to current issues of equity and the role of the educator at their heart. In our book, we describe the shift of DLBE implementation in the United States from small-scale, often grass-roots efforts to large-scale, including state-led and district-led, initiatives as ‘unprecedented.’ We had no idea that the COVID-19 pandemic was going to take DLBE – and public education in general – into an entirely new and unprecedented time. Under the circumstances, it seems impossible for us to discuss anything but the new and very rapidly unrolling reality of shifting DLBE curriculum and instruction online on a massive scale, and the role of teachers in navigating this uncharted terrain. We will share three potential issues of equity in DLBE implementation that we believe are more important than ever in this new and shifting online terrain: a) ensuring access, b) centering marginalized students, and c) engaging a critically conscious curriculum.

Ensuring Access

Access to DLBE, including access to both programs themselves and to the curriculum in them, is always a central equity issue. The shift to distance learning magnifies this issue. How do we provide equitable education in an online medium under circumstances of extreme disparity of access to reliable internet and technology tools, potentially through languages not understood by adults in households? The educator is at the heart of this issue. Teachers and school leaders around the world are asking themselves as they struggle to reach families: Do all our students have access to reliable internet? What devices will they be working on? How much support will they have? How do we provide equitable access to technologies, resources, and support in all the languages our families require?

Centering Marginalized Students

The rapid increase in DLBE programs across the United States through new large scale initiatives has, in some cases, led to processes in which the linguistically and culturally diverse emerging bilingual students that these programs were designed to serve are no longer the focus. Scholars have dubbed this the ‘gentrification’ or ‘whitening’ of dual language. As educators grapple with transitioning to distance learning, this dynamic is more visible than ever: it is imperative that the choices we make online center our most vulnerable students, in terms of expectations upon students (and their families) for learning to use new tools and engage in new ways, requirements for internet access, and finding multiple ways to communicate with and support families. Educators are on the front lines: because teachers engage with children every day, they may be the first to learn which families have lost income, are not eligible for government assistance, and/or are isolated. They know which families are experiencing illness. Teachers are making sure to have resources at their fingertips so they can get them to families in need.

Arguably, as DLBE teachers in a time of crisis, our time and energy are our most valuable resource right now. Where is your time and energy being spent? Are you finding you are able to focus first on the basic needs and human rights of students who need it the most?

Engaging a Critically Conscious Curriculum

Who are we and who do we want to be? Do our community’s actions reflect generosity, compassion, and community well-being, or are some members of our community mired in selfishness, racism, or individualism? This historical moment brings this question – always present in DLBE schools – sharply into focus. Teachers in DLBE classrooms constantly balance the needs of families with vastly different backgrounds – racially, ethnically, linguistically, and socioeconomically. While all of our students may be experiencing stress, anxiety and a disruption to routines during this pandemic, some of our students’ families are likely struggling with much worse: food insecurity, homelessness, or a lack of healthcare. Addressing students’ and their families’ socioemotional and physical well-being must take precedence; it is unreasonable to expect any child to learn new math or reading skills in any language before these basic needs are met. Meanwhile, this moment has the potential to open up a space for deepening critical consciousness in our diverse classroom communities: the discomfort and vulnerability that even our most privileged families are feeling right now may actually support cross-linguistic, cross-cultural empathy, compassion, and critical listening. Perhaps in this moment of crisis, DLBE families can organize across difference to support one another.

In our book, we focus on teachers. We provide windows into different (actual) classrooms and the complex and multifaceted way teachers adopt, navigate, and implement DLBE in a top-down implementation context. During this crisis, we believe many of our central messages are the same – though they are certainly transformed into a new context and a heightened sense of urgency. Teachers are critical language-in-education policymakers who can engage in transformative pedagogy through centering the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse children and their families and adopting critical consciousness as a central goal. We believe more strongly than ever that this is a time to (re)invest and (re)commit to this transformative potential of DLBE. Hang in there, bi/multilingual maestr@s!

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Teacher Leadership for Social Change in Bilingual and Bicultural Education by Deborah K. Palmer.

NABE 2020 in Las Vegas!

Laura receiving the NABE 2020 Exhibitor of the Year Award

I have just got back to the office from the 49th annual National Association of Bilingual Education (NABE) conference, which this year was held in glittering Las Vegas! The conference certainly got off to a sparkling start for Multilingual Matters as we were awarded the NABE Exhibitor of the Year award, which I was very excited to accept on behalf of the company at the ribbon-cutting opening ceremony. The ceremony had a bit of an Oscars/Grammys awards feel to it, as Elvis made an appearance! Fortunately, I kept my speech shorter than many heard at the Oscars! We are delighted to have been honoured with this award, having a long history of exhibiting at NABE and very much support the association’s mission of ‘advocating for educational equity and excellence for bilingual/multilingual students in a global society’.

View from Laura’s hotel at sunrise

The conference itself was a busy one and I was especially pleased at how many delegates seemed to find just the book they were looking for, to help them with their teaching, research or other work, at our stand. We are rare at the NABE conference in being an exhibitor presenting academic research to the delegates and it was nice that so many appreciated what we bring to the conference. Among the popular titles were Deborah K. Palmer’s book Teacher Leadership for Social Change in Bilingual and Bicultural Education, the 2nd edition of What Teachers Need to Know About Language by Carolyn Temple Adger, Catherine E. Snow and Donna Christian and our enduringly popular textbook Foundations of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism by Colin Baker and Wayne E. Wright. We’re hoping to get the 7th edition of this textbook out in time for NABE 2021, as it’s sure to be a big hit there. Next year’s conference is to be held in Houston, Texas and will be the 50th edition so with both our new textbook and NABE’s anniversary to celebrate, it’s sure to be a good one! We’re looking forward to it already!

Laura

What is the Role of Teachers in the US Struggle over Mexican and Central American Immigration?

This month we published Teacher Leadership for Social Change in Bilingual and Bicultural Education by Deborah K. Palmer. In this post she explains how teachers give her hope during the political struggle over immigration along the US southern border. 

I believe that in the United States we will look back upon these years as a dark time in our history. The political struggle over immigration along our southern border has led to more and more direct and blatant attacks on human rights, not only from angry reactionary citizens but from the government and its institutions. Since 2016 there has been an uptick in scapegoating of immigrants, Muslims, Latinas/os, and people of color. At this point, documented neo-Nazis and White Supremacists occupy official roles in the Trump White House and are running for public office in the upcoming election, and President Trump’s appointed attorney general Jeff Sessions – the official charged with protecting civil rights – has a long history of racist stances.

At the same time, for many years US foreign policy in Mexico and Central America has contributed to increases in gang- and drug-related violence, which in turn continues to drive more and more people – often unaccompanied youth and families with young children – to seek safety in the United States. Mr. Sessions and the Trump administration have moved toward a “zero tolerance” policy toward these immigrants and refugees.

I find this concept, “zero tolerance”, to be emblematic of Trump’s era in our country. Why would so many Americans, most of whose ancestors came into the country as religious or economic refugees, embrace an ideology of intolerance?

As a teacher educator and former bilingual teacher, I constantly ask myself what is the role of teachers – particularly bilingual teachers – in the face of “zero tolerance”? In truth, elementary bilingual education and ESL teachers offer me hope. These are professionals on the front lines of our immigration crisis, working every day with the children and families who are the target of the worst attacks. Critically conscious teachers engaging in culturally sustaining pedagogies, give their students a safe and welcoming space every day where they can learn and grow, where they are not merely “tolerated” but fully embraced and welcomed in the United States.

Teachers have long inspired me. Whenever I am concerned about the state of the world, I turn to critically-engaged teachers, and draw inspiration from their work. The work of teachers is complex and multi-faceted; teaching well, and teaching diverse multilingual communities of children, requires a wide range of skills and dispositions. In my work with experienced teachers seeking their master’s degrees, I’ve begun to notice some patterns: teachers who are successful at creating and enacting curriculum that will support diverse students’ identities and build their academic skills all seem to share at least the following characteristics: they are willing to take risks and take stands; they are deeply reflective and aware of larger systems of oppression and the tools to counter oppression; and they network and connect with other teachers, families and communities to find the resources they need.

For example, a pair of fourth grade teachers in Austin, Texas developed a curricular unit on the topic of immigration that integrates high quality multilingual/multicultural children’s literature with their students’ own families’ stories to engage students and their families in a month-long exploration of history/language arts/geography. One of these teachers, working with her school librarian, has developed a webpage offering resources for locating and using culturally-relevant literature for the elementary classroom. Another former pre-kindergarten teacher from Austin has moved into full-time activism as a union organizer and has organized resources to put on periodic citizenship drives for the immigrant community. A team of dual language bilingual teacher coaches from Round Rock, Texas (outside Austin) worked together within the leadership structures of their traditionally English-dominant school district to offer all their growing population of Spanish-speaking students – and many of their English-speaking students too – a strong, enriching dual language bilingual education program.

Teachers are so often the ones who build systems both within and beyond their classrooms to ensure their students can adapt and grow in their new homes. Bilingual teachers in particular are bridges; they are advocates for their immigrant students, and they are among our best ambassadors.

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also like Restrictive Language Policy in Practice by Amy J. Heineke.