Academic journal article English Education

Reframing Literacy Practices for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students in U.S. Schools

Academic journal article English Education

Reframing Literacy Practices for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students in U.S. Schools

Article excerpt

The increasing numbers of students from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds attending U.S. schools have been a phenomenon that would seem difficult to ignore. In the past decade the number of school-aged students who spoke a language other than English at home nearly doubled (Aud et al., 2010). In many communities, culturally and linguistically di- verse students already comprise a majority of the population. It is also hard to ignore the alarming statistics on the educational outcomes for students from linguistically diverse backgrounds, including those who are identi- fied as English learners, in U.S. public schools. For example, students who speak a first language other than English achieve proficiency in literacy in far smaller numbers than their English-speaking peers (Garcia, Kleifgen, & Falchi, 2008). The dropout rates for English learners are also significantly higher than native English speakers (McNeil, Coppola, Radigan, & Heilig, 2008). The continuing achievement gap between these students and their English-speaking peers suggests that current policies and practices have yet to ensure equitable and accessible education.

The growing English learning population poses particular challenges and opportunities for English educators. In addition to the social and eco- nomic consequences that inequitable outcomes present to all educators, English educators teach language and literacy with all of the social and cultural nuances entailed. In this capacity they can and ought to play a significant role in supporting the academic development of culturally and linguistically diverse students. One way to examine how English education is positioned in relation to students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds is through examining the principles that inform the policy statements of its major organizations as well as comparing these principles to the diverse theoretical and empirical inquiries related to English learners. To these ends, this article begins with an exploration of the National Council of Teachers of English's (NCTE) current policies, research, and practices related to language and literacy education for students from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds in the United States. Further, this article offers alternative perspectives and explores promising practices based on world Englishes, multiliteracy, and critical literacy principles.

Current Positions and Possible Directions

To identify the principles animating policy and instruction, we began with a review of the current policy documents published by NCTE (2005, 2006, 2007, 2008). To contextualize the policies, we reviewed them individually and in relation to educational and policy reports from the U.S. government, research centers, and professional literature. From this review, we noted that the NCTE documents treat English learning as primarily a classroom-based issue focused on cultural relevance and effective practices. For example, the 2005 Conference on English Education (CEE) position statement, "Support- ing Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Learners in English Education," places specific emphasis on practices associated with culturally responsive pedagogy, including the infusion of cultural heritage and practices as part of the daily curriculum, critical use of popular culture and media, a variety of multicultural texts, writing personally meaningful texts, and so forth. This position statement reflects its historical time when few distinctions were made between racial/ethnic diversity and linguistic diversity.

By the time the 2008 Policy Brief appears, the approach to English language education changed significantly. This Policy Brief treats English learners as distinct from other culturally diverse students and makes a co- gent argument for multilingualism and multiculturalism, acknowledging the heterogeneous nature of the English learner population. This report also clearly identifies heritage languages as resources both academically and linguistically. …

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