AAAL 2023: Invited Colloquium

Conceptual and methodological innovations in L2 literacy development: Learning from multilingual immigrant and refugee background students and communities


Amanda Kibler, College of Education at Oregon State University 

Fares Karam, College of Education & Human Development, University of Nevada, Reno 


Shawna Shapiro, Associate Professor of Writing & Linguistics, Middlebury College, Vermont 

Colloquium Abstract

In an age of resurgent nationalism and increasing xenophobic sentiments against migrant communities, it is important to better understand the complex settings in which multilingual learners from immigrant and refugee backgrounds develop literacy across languages. Often subsumed under various bureaucratic labels, an increasingly diverse and multilingual population of learners across the globe continues to challenge our perceptions of literacy and of what it means to read words and worlds. For example, recent trends in research have expanded the notion of literacy into new modalities, sociopolitical and racialized spaces, materialities, and timespaces. Scholars have also focused on multilingual students’ engagement with various literacy practices that constitute forms of resistance, innovation, and hope in countering dominant and dehumanizing narratives that further marginalize this diverse population of learners. This research panel aims at highlighting recent conceptual and methodological innovations in studying L2 literacy development, with a special focus on the use of qualitative research methods. More specifically, the panel showcases how qualitative research designs and tools can allow scholars not only to “study” the literacy development of multilingual learners from immigrant and refugee backgrounds, but also to learn from their border-crossing, transnational, and trans/multilingual literacy practices in order to enact social and systemic change. 

Following a brief introduction to the topic and speakers, each of the four presentations will be allotted 15 minutes, followed by a 15 minute discussion of emergent themes and questions by our discussant (Shawna Shapiro) leaving room for session dialogue.

Researching the Multimodal Literacy Practices of a Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing Multilingual English Learner 

Liv T. Dávila, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign,

Abstract:  Recent scholarship has offered nuanced critiques of educational policies and practices that marginalize English Learner students with disabilities (or who are differently abled) (Cioè-Peña, 2000; Kangas, 2021), as well as pedagogical interventions that either prevent or promote literacy development within this population (Sarisahin, 2020). Less research has explored language and literacy development among English Learners who are deaf or hard-of-hearing (DHH) in particular.  

This presentation will center on qualitative research on the language and literacy experiences of Madou (a pseudonym), an adolescent multilingual refugee student from the Democratic Republic of Congo who was formally diagnosed as deaf upon his arrival to the U.S. as a middle schooler. Specifically, drawing on conceptual and empirical literature on multimodal composition (Smith, et al. 2017; Van Leeuwen, 2015), the research explores multimodal and translingual dimensions of Madou’s reading and writing practices, including his use of American Sign Language (ASL), French, and Swahili within his English as a Second Language (ESL) and mainstream high school classrooms. The research also draws on the perspectives of Madou’s school-assigned ASL interpreter on his language and literacy development. Findings illustrate Madou’s negotiation of multiple linguistic and communicative resources (e.g., finger spelling, signing, written words, sounds, images, video) in the service of civic learning in school.

Methodologically, this presentation will interrogate practical and ethical considerations when conducting research on the literacy practices of English learners who are DHH, including researcher positionality, challenges of data collection and interpretation, and the importance of collaboration to support culturally and linguistically affirmative, humanizing relationships and outcomes in language and literacy research and teaching.

The Ambivalence of (Non)Belonging: An Eth-Netnography of a Refugee-background Family’s Resettlement and Language Learning Experiences
Amanda Kibler, College of Education at Oregon State University, 
Fares Karam, College of Education & Human Development, 

Abstract:  As numbers of individually displaced people continue to increase across the globe, the education of refugee-background (RB) learners becomes a more urgent topic. RB students are often represented as aliens or security threats, and they are subjected to state policies of exclusion that increase their invisibility. Important research has documented the challenges faced by RB students, yet there is a need for more asset-based research that not only critically analyzes the challenges they face, but also highlights their strengths. Among the assets that RB students bring into their resettlement countries is their rich multilingual and multiliterate repertoires, and thus there is a need to learn more about how they use and learn languages and literacies not only in school-based contexts but also in out-of-school and online multimodal contexts. This study addresses these gaps in our knowledge through working with a Syrian RB family (two parents; three school-aged children). More specifically, the research questions ask: How does a Syrian RB family negotiate (non)belonging in their U.S. resettlement context inside and outside of schooling, both in-person and in online contexts via social media platforms? How does negotiating (non)belonging influence their literacy development, and how do they use (or not) their multilingual repertoires in such negotiations inside and outside of schooling? The study draws upon the concept of ambivalence in migratory experiences and translanguaging. It adopts an eth-netnographic research design that combines traditional ethnography with a netnographic approach – ethnographic techniques to study the lived experiences of individuals and communities on social media platforms. Findings from this study guide the development of a framework that highlights the assets and creative ways that RB families use literacies in online out-of-school contexts and provide recommendations on how such practices can be leveraged in the classroom as part of a culturally and linguistically responsive approach to teaching multilingual RB students.

A focus on adolescents and young adults: A qualitative meta-synthesis of bilingual reading

Maneka Deanna Brooks, Texas State University,

Abstract:  As a contribution to this panel that discusses both conceptual and methodological innovations in L2 literacy development, I present this paper that uses qualitative meta-synthesis as a research method. As a result, this paper shines a light on the promise of qualitative meta-synthesis as a research method in research to center adolescents and young adults in the study of bilingual and multilingual literacies. Secondly, it uses the findings of the meta-synthesis itself to push the field forward to more complex and nuanced understandings of reading and literacy learning.

Qualitative meta-synthesis provides a unique way to highlight the contributions of multiple qualitative studies on a particular topic. Specifically, it entails researcher(s) synthesizing, analyzing, and interpreting findings from a group of qualitative studies that is delineated by focus (Finlayson & Dixon, 2008). While qualitative meta-synthesis has been popular in nursing for multiple decades, it is only recently gaining popularity in education and related fields (Berry & Thunder, 2012; Frankel et al., 2021; Yoder et al., 2016). In this study, I extend the spectrum of qualitative meta-synthesis studies to include the reading practices of bilingual adolescents and young adults. The resulting analysis reveals how qualitative meta-synthesis can be used to inform research, policy, and practice that centers the literacy learning experiences of adolescents and young adults. Moreover, it shows dominant trends within qualitative research that can serve to dehumanize as well as key principles that center youths’ hope, resilience, and innovation.   

Advancing epistemic rights in literacy education: A partnership approach to qualitative research with transnational communities

María Paula Ghiso, Teachers College, Columbia University, 

Abstract:  Multilingual children bring cultural resources, linguistic repertoires, family literacy practices, and transnational knowledges to today’s classrooms (Ghiso, 2016). Yet despite this plurality, within the official purview of school they are often assigned deficit labels based on the monolingual assumptions underpinning literacy curricula (Martínez, 2018) and pressures to make gains on English-medium reading measures. Efforts to diversify instruction can also work at cross purposes, flattening the complexities of languages and literacies — for example, by obscuring intersectional issues, such as the relationships between literacy and race, language hierarchy, and class; or by not engaging children and families’ sociopolitical knowledge.

Researchers focusing on education justice for multilingual learners and students of immigrant backgrounds are entangled within these politics of knowing about whose literacies “count.” In this presentation, I discuss how qualitative research can center partnerships with students, families, and teachers and consider questions such as: What research processes can foreground epistemic collaboration? How can research practices be grounded in community literacies and legacies of activism and resistance? How might literacy researchers think about—and enact—and ethics of partnering? I explore these ideas through examples from two long-term studies to argue that one pivotal role researchers can play is to cultivate opportunities for multilingual communities to advance their epistemic rights — the basic human right to have the resources and time to inquire into the inequities of the world and how to make it better (Campano et al., in press). 


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