Translanguaging and Parental Engagement

Cindy M. Bautista-Thomas
The Graduate Center, City University of New York

Abstract

Parents[1], including extended family and caregivers, are an essential part of the education discourse, particularly as it relates to their role in the academic achievement of their children. With American schools becoming increasingly culturally and linguistically diverse, teachers and administrators are challenged to enact programs that provide quality learning environments for all students, particularly emergent bilinguals (Tran, 2014). Translanguaging is a type of pedagogy that would benefit teachers and students alike in the educational process.   In this practice brief, I will provide a historical framework for translanguaging, describe its connection to culturally relevant pedagogy and social justice, and recommend a Translanguaging Home Success Guide to be used by school-based practitioners.

Introduction

Emergent bilinguals are children whose first language may not be English and are working towards learning English while maintaining their native language. This population may also be categorized as linguistically diverse, English Language Learners (ELL) or Limited English Proficient (LEP). The term emergent bilingual is used to reflect an empowerment, strengths-based perspective rather than defining school-age children as non-English proficient or limited English proficient. It is also a term that embraces children’s home languages as well as English, acknowledging the richness of their bilingualism. García and Kleifgen (2010) have pointed out the importance of the use of home language practices as being key to providing emergent bilinguals with educational excellence and equity. To negate a child’s culture and language is detrimental to their overall identity development. Translanguaging offers a way to embrace the child’s home language and culture by bringing it into the classroom space. García et al. (2008) also noted:

When officials and educators ignore the bilingualism that these students can and often must develop through schooling in the United States, they perpetuate inequities in the education of these children. That is, they discount the home languages and cultural understandings of these children and assume their educational needs are the same as a monolingual child. (p. 6)

Parental Engagement

Learning needs to be varied with this population, and pedagogical approaches that focus on connecting cultural and language practices can be an integral way of helping to engage parents of emergent bilinguals. Parent Engagement refers to the ongoing, goal-directed relationship between staff and families that are mutual, culturally responsive and support what is best for children and families both individually and collectively.[2] As Noguera (2006) states, “working closely with families and assuring them that the educators who serve their children have their best interest at heart is essential for creating a partnership that can lead to creative solutions to complex transnational arrangements.” The challenge is that teachers are not often trained to work with families in a way that is strengths-based and allows for exchange of information. In Rockett Sullivan’s (2013) report, she emphasizes that meaningful parental engagement “involves strategic and reciprocal partnerships between schools, community organizations, and parents that aim at supporting successful student outcomes, and in order to assess the challenges to family engagement, each partner needs to understand their unique role in cultivating family engagement, and recognize various forms of involvement” (p. 21). Research has shown that active parent involvement in their child’s learning, such as monitoring or helping with homework, influences children’s’ academic success through modeling, reinforcement, and instruction, which in turn support children’s attributes for achievement, such as confidence and self-regulation (Rogers, Wiener, Marton, & Tannock, 2009, p. 169).

Historical Framework

In its earliest use, the term translanguaging comes from the Welsh word trawysieithu and was coined by Cen Williams according to García and Wei (2013). It refers to new language practices that reveal the complexity of language exchanges. Garcia and Wei (2013) have defined translanguaging as, “the act of languaging between systems that have been described as separate, and beyond them” (p. 42). It is a way in which multilingual speakers are able to embrace their languages while making meaning of other languages, maintaining flexibility and dignity. Very distinct from terms such as codeswitching or code meshing, translanguaging has a very intentional way of breaking language barriers. Translanguaging emphasizes “that the language practices of American bilingual children include, flexibly and simultaneously, features of languages other than English, as well as English” (Garcia and Leiva, p 213).

Developing ways of incorporating translanguaging into the school curriculum is another way school personnel can help facilitate the home school collaboration. By calling on various connectors, pertinent knowledge can be provided to school personnel, including appropriate information encouraging the value of families as partners in the learning process. For example, it is important that teachers learn about the styles of diverse families and differing cultural backgrounds, realizing that all families come with strengths (Broussard, 2003). “Developing networks of support with peers and family not only serves as an important strategy to counter the many challenges that they face, but also creates a sense of collective struggle and a desire to reach out to other bilingual-bicultural individuals, who like themselves strive to break through the existing structures of power that attempt to limit possibilities” (Valenciana, et al., 2006). Research emphasizes the importance of building positive relationships with teachers, peers and families (Woolley, Kol, & Bowen, 2009). The research indicates that positive student engagement was associated with teacher support. It also showed that parental support and parental monitoring of educational issues was directly associated with student feedback around teacher support. “A translanguaging pedagogy is important for language minoritized students, whether they are emergent bilingual or not, because it builds on students’ linguistic strengths” (García & Wei, 2013). Translanguaging encourages co-learning, where children and parent language backgrounds are respected and valued. Parents who actively promote learning in the home, have direct and regular contact with school, and experience fewer barriers to involvement have children who demonstrate positive engagement with their peers, adults, and learning (McWayne, Fantuzzo, Cohen, & Sekino, 2004).  By opening up the doors of communication with families in a very accommodating manner, parents are apt to reciprocate. Translanguaging is a practice that helps children and families feel that their home language and culture is valued and considered.

Equally important is the notion of bringing culturally relevant pedagogy and multicultural education into the academic experience. There is no language without a culture. It has always been inconceivable to think that a child can experience public education and not have exposure to information about their cultural background or that of their peers from a strengths-based point of view. Instead, most class materials are taught from an Anglo-Saxon outlook. Unfortunately, the way in which many textbooks are written look at communities of color and immigrant populations from a deficit-based view. Emergent bilingual students bring such a wealth of knowledge and substantive worldviews to the classroom. Being taught from a viewpoint using multicultural education and critical pedagogy as a framework will require extensive work from the school administration and faculty, as well as parental involvement. Banks (2007) affirms that in order to implement multicultural education in a school, “we must reform its power relationships, the verbal interaction between teachers and students, the culture of the school the curriculum, extracurricular activities, attitudes toward minority languages, the testing program and grouping practices” (p. 23). Translanguaging supports this.

For the purpose of this brief, I will use the term multicultural education as defined by Nieto (2004) and Banks and Banks (2009). Both have created seminal work in the field of multicultural education. Banks and Banks define multicultural education as:

an idea, an educational reform movement, and a process whose major goal is to change the structure of educational institutions so that male and female students, exceptional students, and students who are members of diverse racial, ethnic, language and cultural groups will have an equal chance to achieve academically in school. (p. 1)

Nieto (2004) expands the definition further by adding the importance of approaching multicultural education with a vantage point of critical pedagogy. According to Nieto (1999) critical pedagogy is a way of thinking more openly and critically about learning. It comes from the standpoint that problems and issues can be looked at in a multi-faceted manner. Examining multicultural education using critical pedagogy “encourages teachers who are interested in transformative education to rethink what and how they teach and to constantly question their decisions” (p. 135). Nieto adds that multicultural education is rooted in “a sociopolitical context and as antiracist and basic education for all students that permeates all areas of schooling, and that is characterized by a commitment to social justice and critical approaches to learning” (Nieto, 2004).

In one study, Joseph, Slovak, Broussard, and Webster (2012) found “that a school environment that embraces a multicultural atmosphere will nurture the learning and subsequent academic success of vulnerable students” (p. 141). Teaching with a culturally relevant pedagogy is the next step that would complement the contexts already mentioned. Ladson-Billings (1995) describes the culturally relevant theory as teaching that includes “an ability to develop students academically, a willingness to nurture and support cultural competence and the development of a sociopolitical or critical consciousness” (p. 483).

Translanguaging as Social Justice

Translanguaging, coupled with culturally relevant pedagogy and multicultural education, is a form of social justice. These pedagogies are transformative because they help highlight the strengths of the languages that the children bring to the classroom while still building on new language practices. It also provides an opportunity for instructors to work with families as co-learners, helping to bring light to varying family dynamics, social systems, and sociopolitical issues impacting children in their households.

For many teachers, the schools in metropolitan areas where they work are populated by historically marginalized communities whose backgrounds are linguistically and culturally diverse. The richness in the variety of the learning styles and school structures makes for a complex system. Socio-political factors that may sometimes impact urban education include structural racism and oppression, high drug and gang activity, increased crime rates and limited economic means. Education, Anyon (2005) argues, “is an institution whose basic problems are caused by, and whose basic problems reveal, the other crises in cities: poverty, joblessness, and low-wages, and racial and class segregation” (p. 177). For communities of limited economic means and neighborhoods that experience inequity, education can be the vehicle that transports them from a life of poverty caused by injustices to upward mobility. Teachers can support the development of these pedagogical practices, once given the tools. The Translanguaging Home School Success Guide is such a tool developed in the hopes of providing teachers and other personnel a manual for encouraging translanguaging practices in schools.

Translanguaging Home School Success Guide

In New York City alone, ELLs account for 14.4% of the overall Department of Education population. There are over 160 different languages spoken by the Department Of Education’s English Language Learners or Emergent Bilinguals. About 52.5% are born in the United States and 47.5% are born outside of the United States (NYC DOE, 2013). When teachers use translanguaging as a teaching tool and are committed to communicating with parents, children will experience more successful experiences in school. There are specific things that teachers can do to facilitate positive parental engagement. Having better relationships with parents will make translanguaging efforts more effective, increasing children and family’s positive disposition and ownership of school curriculum. The tenets included in the Translanguaging Home Success Guide include: 1) Teacher Self-Awareness 2) Communication Tools 3) Classroom Environment 4) Access to Supportive Services.

The Translanguaging Home Success Guide

The four tenets of the Translanguaging Home Success Guide are areas that should be explored by every classroom teacher working with emergent bilinguals. Because translanguaging is a social justice act, it is imperative that teachers have some reflexivity about critical practices for anti-bias education. The following includes a list of questions for the convenience of teachers, administrators and any school personnel adapted from Teaching Tolerance’s Critical Practices for Anti-bias Education Curriculum (2014). Each tenet is followed by a brief description and then some questions to ponder.[3]

1) Have you done any Self-Awareness work?

Your family of origin, life experiences, unconscious and conscious biases, and preconceived ideas or stereotypes influence how you teach your students. It is very important for you to begin to reflect on who you are as an individual as it relates to race, class, gender, socio economic status, religion, sexual orientation, ability and how that relates to the students that you are working with. Have you thought about what your social position is and how it relates to your students and their families? Before you begin the work of engaging families, you need to take a baseline of where you stand when it comes to your own self-awareness, cultural humility, and sensitivity. You can start by reviewing the following materials created by Teaching Tolerance:

Questions to Ponder

  • How do issues of power, privilege and oppression impact your relationships with students and their parents both in and out of the classroom?
  • Have you developed the following skills and attitudes to bridge cultural and linguistic differences such as empathy, flexibility, listening without judgment, appreciation for multiple cultural perspectives and cross-cultural communication?
  • How can you look at cultural and linguistic diversity as a strength and an opportunity, rather than as a concern?
  • What professional development activities are you engaging in to grow in this area?
  • How do you work with school personnel and administrators to address the issues of structural inequities within minoritized languages in schools?
    (Teaching Tolerance, 2014, pg. 19)

2) How do you use Communication Tools to connect with your Parents?

Effective communication between the teacher of a classroom and the parents can positively enhance parental involvement and student success. It is very important to consider the ways in which you actively engage parents while embracing their native language and culture. Establishing strong relationships early on will make a difference and will bridge the communication between home and school. Consider the following questions to nurture the translanguaging practice both in school and at home.

Questions to Ponder

  • Do you have a consistent way of communicating with all of your parents? Do you do email? A weekly newsletter? Notes sent home?
  • Are you making an effort to communicate to the parents in the language that they understand?
  • Do you help your parents feel that they are partnering with you for their child’s education? Have you sent home a questionnaire inquiring about the students’ and families’ strengths?
  • How do you integrate the parents’ knowledge of the children in their learning?
  • How do you appreciate the parents’ family traditions and culture? Are there opportunities for classroom sharing?
    (Teaching Tolerance, 2014, pg. 16)

3) How do you create an Inclusive, Translanguaging-Friendly Classroom Environment?

Creating a classroom experience where translanguaging is embraced is important. The physical space where children learn should be appealing and welcoming. Furthermore creating an atmosphere that is culturally relevant fosters this even more.

Questions to Ponder

  • How does the physical space of your classroom reflect the language diversity in your classroom via signs, posters, or other ways?
  • How do you incorporate culturally relevant materials in your teaching?
  • How do you involve parents to participate in teaching and sharing of their ideas and thoughts to other parents and children?
  • How do you create a climate in the classroom that celebrates and acknowledges the richness of all languages and cultures represented?

4) Who is Available to Provide Social-Emotional Supports to Children in Schools?

García, Woodley, Flores, and Chu (2012) conclude in their study that in addition to academic interventions, social emotional connections within the school are critical to the success of emergent bilingual populations. They found that the common thread among the schools they studied had to do with transcaring, “caring enacted to build a common collaborative ‘in between’ space that transcends linguistic and cultural differences between schools and homes” (p.799). Social workers, guidance counselors, and other mental health providers can facilitate that process in many schools. Knowing who is responsible for providing mental health supportive services is imperative. Issues of acculturation, assimilation and adjustment may come up for students who are new to the country. Identity development concerns can also make learning a challenge within the translanguaging space.

Questions to Ponder

  • Are there social workers, guidance counselors or psychologists available to provide adequate social-emotional support to your students that address their language needs as well?
  • Do you know how to identify a student who may be experiencing mental health issues in school?
  • How can you work with the mental health providers in the school to provide culturally relevant psychoeducation to families and staff on how to best support children with mental illness?
  • How can you work with deans and administration to support children experience mental health challenges within the translanguaging space?
  • How can you develop peer support within the translanguaging space and beyond?

Conclusion

Song (2015) looked at translanguaging in the home and his recommendations support the need for teachers to be more aware of the complex and rich experiences and resources in the home. This study looked at the languaging practices of emergent bilinguals both at school and at home, with a special emphasis on families’ ways of using their two languages to support their children’s language development in literacy events. He challenged his reader to encourage and advocate for families in their efforts to reinforce their children’s home language development. Doing so would help families recognize their cultural and linguistic capital as a valuable resource (Song, 2015). Gaitan (2012) has argued that the power dynamic that ensues between the school and family life impacts the academic achievement of children. Many marginalized communities experience disempowerment on many levels when it comes to their children’s academic progress. Teachers have an opportunity, through translanguaging to give agency and power to parents, in their children’s learning experiences. Parents’ role in shaping a child’s language development should be brought into the classroom in a way that makes sense for both parent and teacher.  “A translanguaging pedagogy is important for language minoritized students, whether they are emergent bilingual or not, because it builds on students’ linguistic strengths” (García & Wei, 2013). Translanguaging encourages co-learning, where children and parent’s language background are respected and valued. Parents who actively promote learning in the home, have direct and regular contact with school, and experience fewer barriers to involvement have children who demonstrate positive engagement with their peers, adults, and learning (McWayne, Fantuzzo, Cohen, & Sekino, 2004). Garcia and Wei (2013) described translanguaging as a means of empowering the teacher and the learner toward a more dynamic and participatory engagement in knowledge construction (p. 112). The Translanguaging Home Success Guide will support the teacher, the student and the parent’s collaborative process for the purpose of meaningful, productive learning experiences while making strides towards social justice in education.

References

Broussard, C. A. (2003). Facilitating home-school partnerships for multiethnic families: School social workers collaborating for success. Children & Schools, 25(4), 211-222.

Banks, J. A., & Banks, C. A. M. (2009). Multicultural education: Issues and perspectives: John Wiley & Sons.

Gaitan, C. D. (2012). Culture, literacy, and power in family–community–school–relationships. Theory Into Practice, 51(4), 305-311.

García, O., & Wei, L. (2013). Translanguaging: Language, bilingualism and education. Palgrave Macmillan.

García, O., Woodley, H. H., Flores, N., & Chu, H. (2012). Latino emergent bilingual youth in high schools: Transcaring strategies for academic success. Urban Education, 0042085912462708.

Joseph, A. L., Slovak, K., Broussard, C. A., & Webster, P. S. (2012). School social workers and multiculturalism: Changing the environment for success. Journal of Ethnic & Cultural Diversity in Social Work, 21(2), 129-143.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1995). Toward a theory of culturally relevant pedagogy. American Educational Research Journal, 32(3), 465-491.

McWayne, C., Fantuzzo, J., Cohen, H. L., & Sekino, Y. (2004). A multivariate examination of parent involvement and the social and academic competencies of urban kindergarten children. Psychology in the Schools, 41(3), 363-377.

New York City Department of Education. (2013). NYC DOE’s Division of Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners, Office of English Language Learners 2013 Demographic Report.

Nieto, S. (1999). The light in their eyes: Creating multicultural learning communities. Teachers College Press.

Nieto, S. (2004). Affirming diversity: The sociopolitical context of multicultural education. ERIC.

Noguera, P. A. (2006). Latino youth: Immigration, education and the future. Latino Studies, 4(3), 313-320.

Rockett Sullivan, E. (October, 2013). Dodging the whodunnit: Broadening an understanding of family, school and community engagement strategies. New York, NY: Perry and Associates, Inc.

Song, K. (2015). “Okay, I will say in Korean and then in American”: Translanguaging practices in bilingual homes. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy. doi: 10.1177/1468798414566705

Teaching Tolerance, A Project of the Southern Poverty Law Center. (2014). Critical practices for anti-bias education: Teacher leadership. Retrieved from http://www.tolerance.org/sites/default/files/general/PDA%20Critical%20Practices_0.pdf

Tran, Y. (2014). Addressing reciprocity between families and schools: Why these bridges are instrumental for students’ academic success. Improving Schools, 17(1), 18-29.

Valenciana, C., Weisman, E. M., & Flores, S. Y. (2006). Voices and perspectives of Latina paraeducators: The journey toward teacher certification. The Urban Review38(2), 81-99.

Woolley, M. E., Kol, K. L., & Bowen, G. L. (2009). The social context of school success for Latino middle school students direct and indirect influences of teachers, family, and friends. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 29(1), 43-70.

Notes

[1] The term parents for the purpose of this brief includes grandparents, other relatives, foster parents, step-parents, and other parenting adults who are responsible for the health and wellbeing of the child.

[2] Family Engagement as Parent Involvement 2.0. HHS/ACF/OHS/NCPFCE. 2012. English.

[3] These questions were adapted from http://www.tolerance.org/publication/teacher-leadership.