Academic journal article English Education

Translating Theory to Practice: Exploring Teachers' Raciolinguistic Literacies in Secondary English Classrooms

Academic journal article English Education

Translating Theory to Practice: Exploring Teachers' Raciolinguistic Literacies in Secondary English Classrooms

Article excerpt

In 2014, our nation's public school-aged population became composed of a majority students of color (Maxwell, 2014). Amid these demographic shifts, fervent white nationalism, religious and linguistic intolerance, xenophobia, racism, and heterosexist discourses characterize our current sociopolitical environment. These forces are, without a doubt, shaping the landscape of learning, and literacy learning in particular. Ironically, as secondary English classrooms become increasingly "hyperracial" (Alim & Reyes, 2011) and multilingual, "we have no national public dialogue on language that recognizes it as a site of cultural struggle" (Alim & Smitherman, 2012, p. 3). A result of this silence around language is a lack of discourse around the ways in which, as Alim and Smitherman put it, "we not only see race but we hear it too" (p. 25). It is this "hearing" by those whom Flores and Rosa (2015) refer to as the "white listening subject" that continues to shape the educational experiences and identities of students of color in the United States.

The silence around language is often most deafening in English classrooms. Despite its potential as a site of linguistic and sociolinguistic inquiry, English classrooms regularly uphold and calcify oppressive ideologies around English and, importantly, speakers of English. And if there is little discussion of "language" in "English Language Arts" classrooms (Martinez, 2017), there is even less conversation around the racism and coloniality embedded in approaches to teaching English in those classrooms. To fill this void, we hone in on two classroom teachers whose pedagogical choices offer important insights into what it means to prepare English teachers to talk about language and its links to processes of racialization in the English classroom. Our collaborative inquiry is guided by two primary questions: (1) How did two teachers engage critical translingual approaches in their classrooms? (2) How did these teachers' positionalities shape their implementation of these approaches? By describing moments in their teaching that made space for students' existing awareness of and experiences with what Flores and Rosa (2015) refer to as raciolinguistic ideologies, we explore what it might look like to prepare teachers to take up a critical translingual approach (Seltzer, 2017).

A critical translingual approach to English education is one that is rooted in traditions of critical literacy and in the "multilingual turn" (May, 2013), an epistemological shift that continues to challenge the framing of monolingualism as the norm. While translanguaging has been taken up by teachers across programs and grade levels, it is often seen only as a scaffold, a temporary and removable set of discrete strategies that can support language minoritized youth1 as they learn English. We believe that the use of translanguaging strategies in instruction, particularly at the secondary level where students are held to increasingly rigorous academic expectations and benchmarks, is certainly preferable to past "sink or swim" approaches. However, a critical translingual approach puts English itself in quotation marks; it asks teachers to view "English" not as a teachable subject, but as an ideological "named language" (Makoni & Pennycook, 2006; Otheguy, García, & Reid, 2015) that leaves out the language practices of many language minoritized students.

A critical translingual approach also extends translanguaging theory and practice so that all language minoritized students-including those who would not commonly be viewed as bilingual/multilingual-are invited to share their diverse language practices and critique dominant language ideologies that portray those practices as deficient. And a critical translingual approach, when applied to teaching and researching with language minoritized youth, means that rather than impose "criticality" in top-down ways (Souto-Manning, 2013), we must respectfully engage in "listening, storying, and seeing" (Caraballo & Souto-Manning, 2017, p. …

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