Academic journal article English Journal

English Learners (ELs) Have Stories to Tell: Digital Storytelling as a Venue to Bring Justice to Life

Academic journal article English Journal

English Learners (ELs) Have Stories to Tell: Digital Storytelling as a Venue to Bring Justice to Life

Article excerpt

One time, I came home from school very upset, because some kids were making fun of my accent and that I couldn't read English very well. First, my mother comforted me so I would quit crying. My mother also talked to my father to help me improve my reading skills and accent. And she also talked to the principal about this incident [giggles] so these kids would not make fun of me or others again. Since then, my reading has improved, and my accent has improved. And can you believe that those kids that bullied me are now my best friends? But none of that would have happened if it weren't for my family.

How often do teachers and students hear this type of story in the English language arts (ELA) classroom? The quote above was taken from a digital story written by a student we will call Beatriz, a twelve-year-old English learner (EL) participating in a literacy camp designed to prevent summer learning loss. If provided with a platform to do so, ELs like Beatriz can author stories rooted in social injustices because of the learners' identities and their experiences. In this article, we postulate that, with teacher guidance and through a digital storytelling workshop, peers can be exposed to the inequities faced by ELs in the classroom, in the community, and in society.

What Are the Issues and Challenges?

The number of English learners (ELs) joining their peers in generalist classrooms increases each year, causing teachers, including ELA teachers, to search for ways to meet the needs of this growing population. In addition to the long journey ELs take to acquire academic English language skills, they are often marginalized in the curriculum and in social interactions with their peers. Within the curriculum, ELs' background experiences are often not valued or incorporated, the different ways the families of ELs interact may not be legitimized, and there is often a disconnect between school and home literacy practices. Moreover, cultural differences can influence the way peers interact socially with ELs in and outside of the classroom. The results are stories that live in silos and do not "travel" well across what Patricia Enciso refers to as "the wall" (23), the barrier separating mainstream students and those students from diverse cultural backgrounds. ELA educators understand the imperative to break down the wall and create an inclusive learning environment. To ensure equal access to the core curriculum, all learners' experiences and cultural backgrounds must be valued, and all students must learn from each other.

In our experience as university faculty who prepare prospective and practicing teachers to work with ELs in the mainstream classroom, we find most ELA teachers understand the urgency of addressing the educational inequities ELs face in the classroom. Still, ELA teachers may lack a venue in the crowded curriculum to expose, discuss, and reflect the equity issues present in the classroom.

We propose digital storytelling (DST) as what Gerald Campano et al. call a "coalitional literacy practice" (315) that creates a space where learners share stories and lived experiences. This is seen as an organic space with the potential to engage students in conversations centered around social injustices (315).

What Do We Know?

We know that culturally competent teachers follow certain developmental stages, namely, recognizing, acknowledging, speculating, addressing, and reconciling attitudes toward cultural nuances (Sue et al. 481-82). The first steps in culturally proficient teaching entail noticing the differences, being able to critically think about what our differences are and where they exist in classrooms. Next, culturally competent teachers are able to speculate about root causes of the differences so that teachers and students may relate to the challenges faced by each other. Cultural competence provides educators with the ability to teach students from different cultures.

In this article, we draw on Campano et al. …

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