AAAL 2022 Wilga Rivers Language Pedagogy Colloquium
Convened by Michele Back
Reckoning and change in language teacher education:
A critical, inclusive approach
As we grapple with the continued injustices surrounding teaching and learning brought forth by a global pandemic, systemic racism, and the repression of critical thought in schools, we also acknowledge the marginalization of language teaching and learning in many parts of the world. This marginalization has in part contributed to the field’s difficulties in reckoning with linguistic and cultural diversity and the inequities highlighted by global events. While there are concerted movements towards inclusive, critical language education and pedagogy, a continued emphasis on “standard” (usually colonial) languages and varieties and stereotypical approaches to target language cultures pose significant barriers to widespread change.
In this colloquium we share research that interrogates the status quo of language teaching and learning, guiding teachers and teacher educators to reckon with their own preconceived notions of language, culture, and method in order to embrace a more inclusive approach to language pedagogy. Our presentations focus in varying degrees on four central tenets:
- Embracing inter-/multi-/trans- practices and perspectives on languages, language varieties, and cultures;
- Being critical of and accountable for traditional participation in language education in order to recognize wrongdoings and correct power imbalances;
- Advocating for pedagogies that highlight liberation, social justice, and equity; and
- Confronting difficult, painful, and uncomfortable topics in the language classroom to make language learning relevant and encourage “mutual transformation” (Lin et al. 2004; p. 499).
This two-hour session will begin with an introduction to the colloquium theme, followed by brief presentations by each panelist on their work. We plan to integrate interactive online tools so that participants can be involved in a lively discussion on panelist research in a variety of modalities. The session will conclude with remarks from our discussant and a whole group discussion on how we can enact these and other changes in language teacher education.
“Nunca olvides de donde vienes:” Cultural excavation for language teachers’ critical global competence
As critical global competence has taken on increased importance among educational researchers (Byker & Marquardt 2016; Cushner 2020) and school administrations (e.g., Arlington World Languages n.d.; Mansfield, CT Public Schools 2017), K-12 teacher preparation programs are often tasked with cultivating this competence among their candidates. Curiosity about and adaptation to complex cultural situations is particularly important for US teachers and teacher candidates, who, despite continued efforts at diversification, are still overwhelmingly White in stark contrast to the multicultural, multilingual students they teach. Due to the often-unmarked status of White cultures, Ladson-Billings (2017) noted the importance of “cultural excavation,” in which White teacher candidates are guided towards recognizing and reflecting upon their own cultures in order to better appreciate other cultures (p. 145).
In this presentation I outline a cultural excavation curriculum implemented in my language teacher education courses to foster candidates’ reflection on different aspects of diversity, in particular the diversity inherent in their own lives. I also explore the role cultural excavation may have played in the development of their intercultural/global competence in both study abroad and at-home contexts. Using data from these assignments, focus groups, and the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI; Hammer et al. 2003), I outline some of the ways in which this curriculum seemed to play a positive role in developing critical cultural awareness, an important component of global competence, among both White students and students of color living in majority White environments. However, although most students moved towards more ethnorelative intercultural stances, significant gaps persisted between participants’ perceived and actual intercultural orientations. I discuss cultural excavation as a helpful but not sufficient framework for critical global awareness in language teacher education, suggesting continued reflection, as well as reentry work in the case of study abroad, as tools to help narrow the gap.
What’s race gotta do with genre pedagogy? K-8 teachers exploring an antiracist framework
This presentation explores K-8 teachers’ reactions to professional development in antiracist pedagogies for English language teaching. First, we explore and motivate the need for explicitly antiracist language pedagogies in an era where “equity” and “social justice” have become popular catch phrases. Using the example of genre pedagogy in North America (Brisk 2015; de Oliveira & Iddings 2014; Gebhard 2019), we show how approaches to language instruction that emphasize access to discourses of power have remained relatively silent about the racialized and racializing aspects of dominating literacy practices valued in schools, even as they support multilingual students in learning to read, deconstruct, and produce high-stakes/dominating texts. This color-evasiveness means that when teachers design and implement genre-based units of instruction many are not prepared to see and/or talk with students about the role racism plays in the formation and reproduction of “academic”/dominating ways of knowing, being, and doing.
In response, we then present a framework for antiracist genre pedagogy (Accurso & Mizell 2020) and our critical action research methods for studying with K-8 teachers their understanding, uptake, and/or resistance to this framework in designing curriculum, instruction, and assessment for diverse US classrooms.
Third, drawing on qualitative analysis of field notes, professional development artifacts, classroom artifacts, and dialogic teacher interviews we present preliminary findings. These findings suggest that teachers benefited from using the framework to: select classroom texts that value racialized knowledge alongside canonized knowledge; develop shared metalanguage for noticing and naming racializing interpersonal meanings in texts; and speak more knowledgeably with community members about the linguistic and justice-oriented value of critically examining canonized and community counter-texts. We also discuss challenges.
Finally, we situate findings within broader conversations around the conceptualization and practice of antiracism in English language and literacies education (e.g., Baker-Bell 2020; Inoue, 2020; Motha 2014; Kubota 2021).
Speechless when the world is burning: Towards a multisemiotic voice in the language classroom
During 2019-21, far away from home, I watched impatiently the biggest uprising in Chile since the 1970s. I saw people mobilized for justice and dignity in all their forms, Chile in flames, hundreds of protesters injured by police, and the rising of one of the deadliest pandemics. I was unable to voice the loss, the pain, the mourning, in Spanish or in English. I wasn’t the only one; this was a global awakening to long-standing colonial systems mutating into rampant neoliberalism (e.g., Mignolo & Walsh 2018). And there I was, reading How to Make Art at the End of the World (Loveless 2019)wherein I felt it was the end of the world, without words. I thought of the silence that I felt learning English at the university; the recurrent impossibility of knitting words together, and the emotional silence of being unable to translate myself into English (Pavlenko 1997). English was all around me, in and out of school, yet it didn’t quite reflect my surroundings, my identity. After seven years immersed in dominant English-speaking spaces, I cannot translate the stories I grew up with.
Amid ongoing global unrest, I wonder how we may challenge the cultural construction of the SLA classroom (Awayed-Bishara 2018) as a space of ontological silence, a place where students yet need to bring their full selves, explore their sociopolitical contexts and their own biographies. In this autoethnography I describe the possibilities of a transdisciplinary classroom. Through transdisciplinary work, students develop a multisemiotic voice that decenters language and language acquisition, and create further meaning-making potential and real-world explorations. As an example, I will share my experience as a Spanish language teacher in a project-based learning environment where students engage in art, journalism, and Zine creation while reflecting on experiences of migration and mental health, among other topics.
Confronting language and raciolinguistic ideologies in world language teacher education
In general, the default audience for US-based world language pedagogy are Anglo, second language (L2) learners with no presumed personal connection to the target language nor any other cultures or languages. As such, language teachers tend to be trained in (and previously exposed to) L2- and white-centric teaching methods that favor prescriptivism, language standardization, native speaker-like targets, and monolingual and monocultural ideations, among others. The ideologies that underlie such language instruction influence teachers’ impressions of themselves and of their students, particularly those of racialized, linguistically- and culturally-diverse backgrounds. There have been increasing discussions within the field about the need for a more critically-oriented, inclusive, and multilingual approach to world language pedagogy (e.g., Anya 2020; Kramsch 2012; Ortega 2019). This presentation aims to add to that conversation by addressing the role of world language teacher education in this endeavor.
First, this presentation will draw on previous research to summarize the ideological underpinnings and consequences of L2- and white-centric approaches to language instruction. Second, a critical curricular framework for a world language teacher methods course that includes content and pedagogical content knowledge of critical language pedagogies, raciolinguistics, sociolinguistics, and translanguaging frameworks is discussed. Third, case studies of two pre-service K-12 teachers of Spanish—Ari, a Mexican American heritage speaker of Spanish, and Ray, an African American language learner of Spanish—are presented. The raciolinguistic experiences of Ari and Ray serve as examples of why reckoning and change in language education continues to be imperative and also of the positive impact a critically-oriented methods course may have on developing one’s teacher identities and praxis, especially for instructors of minoritized backgrounds.
Creating a professional learning community “Decolonizing area studies: Towards intercultural citizenship and social justice”
In this presentation we report on the planning, progress and lessons learned in creating a professional learning community of scholars, teachers, faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students within and beyond UConn to raise awareness and de-center whiteness in languages and culture curricula and classrooms. The project has three phases: 1) awareness building; 2) curriculum and course development; and 3) implementation, multiplication, and publication.
The goal of the first phase was to raise awareness of colonial continuities in area studies. During AY 2020/21 we organized a series of online lectures with scholars from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds (e.g., philosophy, German studies, history, applied linguistics) centered around decolonization theory and practice. This collaboration culminated in an international symposium in which experts shared their experiences, including a roundtable organized by the graduate student group. As we enter the third and final phase of the project (2021-2022), we plan to implement theories, approaches, practices and assessments towards decolonized curricula that emphasize social justice within language and culture learning by creating a professional learning community committed to the common goal of decolonizing area studies.
Lessons learned include that this work requires a great deal of intellectual humility, curiosity, and perseverance. Intellectual humility helps understand what oneself and the various participants bring to the table and how we can learn with and from each other. Curiosity and perseverance are needed to cope with the sheer amount of research and information needed to begin grasping the complexity of topics involved in this initiative. Finally, perseverance is crucial when there are difficult situations due to the nature of the topics. Perhaps the most important lesson is that a strong community that shares these characteristics and provides support for its members through commitment and caring is a sine qua non for this work to be sustainable.