Academic journal article Middle Grades Research Journal

TRANSLATING PEDAGOGIES: Leveraging Students' Heritage Languages in the Literacy Classroom

Academic journal article Middle Grades Research Journal

TRANSLATING PEDAGOGIES: Leveraging Students' Heritage Languages in the Literacy Classroom

Article excerpt

Thomas was a self-professed "stand and deliver" teacher used to a chalk-and-talk method for delivering literacy instruction in his 8th grade classroom. Though he acknowledged the importance of student interaction and leveraging students' heritage languages in instruction, he felt unprepared to tap into the linguistic strengths of his Kurdish, Mexican, and Somali students. After his first attempt to facilitate a bilingual discussion of a text, Thomas asked a question many educators working with English language learners (ELLs) are currently grappling with: how can I help students when I don't speak their language?

Heritage languages are languages that students use in their communities or with their families that are tied closely to their cultural heritage (Fishman, 2001). They are not necessarily the primary language in a student's home, nor are they necessarily the student's first language, as many bilingual students develop multiple languages simultaneously. Researchers and educators hold that effective instruction for ELLs should leverage these languages in literacy instruction (August & Shanahan, 2006); the cognitive and social benefits to students are too great to be overlooked in a time where ELLs continue to perform behind their mainstream peers in literacy (U.S. Department of Education, 2010).

For any ESL or content area teacher, incorporating students' heritage languages into instruction can be a daunting task (Karathanos, 2010). Along with the challenge of leveraging a language that the teacher might not understand, this teacher must also find ways to integrate this language into instruction to promote student achievement. Furthermore, states like California, Massachusetts, and new destination states, like Tennessee, adhere to Englishonly language policies. We seek to shed light on how teachers that do not share a heritage language with their students can leverage these languages in literacy instruction. We examine five teachers' participation in a literacy activity that uses strategic collaborative translation to facilitate students' understandings about texts, about reading comprehension strategies, and about language. From this analysis, we then highlight how this activity can support ELLs' literacy achievement under the Common Core State Standards.

Heritage Languages in the Classroom

The Working Group on ELL Policy (2009) recognizes that "most schools fail to capitalize on (ELLs') linguistic resources" (p. 2) and points out that the "use of the home language can promote English language development and academic achievement, particularly in literacy" (pp. 3-4). Researchers have shown the advantages of leveraging heritage languages to promote literacy achievement. Hopewell (2011) and Jiménez (1997) show that students benefit from using bilingual reading comprehension strategies, such as using cognates, translating words within context, and discussing English texts in their heritage language. López-Robertson (2012) also argues that certain comprehension strategies, like making text-to-self connections, are better accessed when students have opportunities to use heritage languages in discussions about texts.

Leveraging heritage languages can also facilitate students' English language development. Scott (2008) shows that students benefit from talking about grammatical structures in a new language when they have these discussions in their heritage language. Pacheco and Goodwin (2013) argue that students use morphological knowledge in their heritage language to help derive meanings of unknown words in English. Furthermore, comparing two languages through multilingual activities like translating can build students' awareness of the forms and functions of language (Malakoff & Hakuta, 1991). Bilinguals constantly use their heritage language as a resource for making meaning in the second language, and vice versa. Rather than thinking of the two as separate systems within the bilingual mind, Cook (1993) argues that both languages are part of one system that students access strategically to make meaning. …

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