Category Archives: Diversity

Community Literacies en Confianza, Part II

This post is written by member Steven Alvarez. This is the second of two parts. You can read the first part here.

The most important point I argue for in Community Literacies en Confianza regards the importance of K–12 English language arts teachers to expand their knowledge of the literacy practices of English-language-learning students by engaging with their students’ communities, learning from their expertise with the trust of confianza. Confianza in English translates literally as “confidence,” but in practice confianza means reciprocating a relationship where individuals feel cared for. Confianza is an ongoing intentional process centered on local communities which involves exchanging mutual respect, critical reflection, caring, and group participation. Confianza is dialogical trust of acceptance and confirmation between adult mentors and emergent bilingual students, and it has extraordinarily positive impacts on academic attitudes of youths, especially in language-minoritized communities (Barrett and García). In the book, I expand on this notion of confianza and learning about students and their communities, as well as how a stance open to students’ complete linguistic repertoires, in turn, impacts the students’ and their families’ literacies and their networks of bilingual support.

This video from VBL was filmed during the awards ceremony for a “best essay” competition about the importance of the library for the community. The man speaking donated the bike for the winner. He and I both read the essays composed by children at the library, in Spanish and English.

When educators become participants in bilingual communities, they partake in a form of community membership, demonstrating a kind of role modeling that will both engage emergent bilingual youth and build confianza in dialogue with communities. Dialogue, in addition to sharing stories and common hardships, fosters relationships through sustained confianza between community after-school programs and educators (Barrett and García; Martínez et al.). Ultimately, confianza is feeling and knowing one is cared for. Angela Valenzuela argues that the “cared-for individual responds by demonstrating a willingness to reveal her/his essential self, the reciprocal relation” (21). These qualities truly create not only a sense of validation and support en confianza, but also a sense of trust, resulting in open dialogues about schools and the community. Not surprisingly, establishing confianza takes time, but is vital for opening channels for collaboration with community literacy research and after-school programs, especially those engaging with emergent bilingual students.

Why is this notion of confianza so vital for working with emergent bilingual students and their families? For Latin American and Latino/a students, research shows us the importance of confianza for bilingual families, suggesting that sustained, dedicated commitment between non-familial adults and youth has positive impacts on the academic outcomes of children and adolescents in immigrant families (Louie; Smith). As collaborators connecting students, parents, and educators, the two after-school communities believed in emergent bilingual students achieving higher educational goals with mentored, bicultural, and bilingual supports. These community partners have inspired confianza through transformative visions for education and by building alliances among partners and activists.

VBL students during a writing workshop exploring food and poetry.

Works Cited

Barrett, Leslie, and Ofelia García. Additive Schooling in Subtractive Times: Bilingual Education and Dominican Youth in the Heights. Vanderbilt UP, 2011.

Louie, Vivian. Keeping the Immigrant Bargain: The Costs and Rewards of Success in America. Russell Sage Foundation, 2012.

Martínez, Ramón A., et al. “Unpacking the Ideologies of Linguistic Purism: How Dual Language Teachers Make Sense of Everyday Translanguaging.” International Multilingual Research Journal, vol. 9, no. 1, 2015, pp. 26-42.

Smith, Robert Courtney. Mexican New York: Transnational Lives of New Immigrants. U of California P, 2006.

Valenzuela, Angela. Subtractive Schooling: U.S.-Mexican Youth and the Politics of Caring. State U of New York P, 1999.

Steven Alvarez is assistant professor of Writing, Rhetoric, and Digital Studies at the University of Kentucky. His research explores the languages and literacies of Latino immigrants in New York City and Kentucky.

To read more of Steven Alvarez’s works, please visit Translanguaging Literacies and Community Ethnographies.

Steven Alvarez recorded Confidence in Community Literacies: Bilingual Writers Reading the World, an On Demand Webinar for NCTE.

Community Literacies en Confianza, Part I

This post is written by member Steven Alvarez. This is the first of two parts. 

In my book Community Literacies en Confianza: Learning from Bilingual After-School Programs, I focus on ethnographic case studies of two communities of students and families, the Kentucky United Latinos (KUL) and the Valle del Bluegrass Library (VBL). The communities were composed of emergent bilingual students and parents learning about schools as they learned English—in the case of VBL, students from preK to middle school, and for KUL, high school students. The two communities illustrated in two different contexts how emergent bilingual students and their families collectively navigated school systems and the English language with the help of after-school programs and their networks of members, teachers, and volunteers. I draw upon my experiences with KUL and VBL to create portraits of bilingual after-school communities that do this kind of work to offer relatable contexts that detail how schools and teachers can partner and draw from surrounding community learning. From these portraits, I explore what lessons we can draw from them that could impact how we teach writing in school. The focus on community puts the local knowledge and experiences of students and families in the forefront.

VBL had offered free after-school homework tutoring for emergent bilingual youths for over a decade. Located in a barrio of a small city in central Kentucky, the library mediated between the newly growing Latin American immigrant community in the area and local institutions, primarily local schools. VBL was the only bilingual public library in the state, and also the only one to offer after-school homework assistance, thanks in part to volunteer tutors and assistance from library staff. The homework assistance program served youth in grades K–8. Different VBL programs and events, however, were geared to preK, high school, and adult audiences.

Bilingual signs announcing homework help at VBL. The library was a valuable bilingual resource for the community.

The Kentucky United Latinos (KUL) after-school club formed in 2011 at a high school not too far away from the barrio where VBL stood. In fact, KUL often met at VBL since many students lived within walking distance of the library. Most of the KUL students had VBL library cards and had participated in the library’s programs when they were younger. With the coordinating assistance of teachers, KUL also partnered with a middle school to sponsor a mentorship program between students. KUL members met with middle school students to provide advice and guidance in English and Spanish to Latino/a students destined for their high school. KUL members encouraged the students to get involved in middle school activities and seek out ways to volunteer to help their communities. The KUL members noted the importance of making a strong academic start as a ninth grader, and how their community service prepared them for college and future internships.

High school student Bianca, with collaboration from the classmates in her ELL course at school, drew the artwork above entitled Don’t Cry. Bianca, a ninth grader, had migrated to Kentucky from Cuba earlier in the school year, and, since arriving, she had been a member of KUL. Bianca drew the figure and passed the drawing around to each of her classmates to write “don’t cry” in their home languages. Notice the rich linguistic diversity in her classroom.

Steven Alvarez is assistant professor of Writing, Rhetoric, and Digital Studies at the University of Kentucky. His research explores the languages and literacies of Latino immigrants in New York City and Kentucky.

To read more of Steven Alvarez’s works, please visit Translanguaging Literacies and Community Ethnographies.

Steven Alvarez recorded Confidence in Community Literacies: Bilingual Writers Reading the World, an On Demand Webinar for NCTE.

An Invitation to Dream Big

This post is written by members Christine McCartney and Jacqueline Hesse.

 What is it you are passionate about as an educator? As a person?

Is it social justice? Civic engagement? Making the world a kinder place?

Teachers’ passions are often situated within big ideas that extend far beyond the walls of our classrooms and the confines of curriculum. The challenge we face is to create spaces for our work and our students’ work to transcend those boundaries.

As English teachers at Excelsior Academy, a New York state P-TECH school, our dream was to help our students carve a space for themselves as global citizens, while also considering their own capacity to impact our local community. Over the last three years, our vision has evolved as we invite our students to consider local issues of social justice and equity.

Once a flourishing city on the Hudson River, Newburgh has been experiencing the decades-long effects of deindustrialization. The loss of industry and its impact on the local economy have left our city with an increasing juvenile incarceration rate, entrenched drug and gang issues, and high poverty levels. However, local businesses, community leaders, and organizations in Newburgh have been working diligently to better our city. While we wholeheartedly support the needed revitalization efforts, we worry about gentrification pushing out our students and their families, who may not be able to remain in a city where rents are steadily increasing. We also fear that efforts to improve the city might overlook the interests and voices of the residents who are already here. We need to invite our students to learn about the changes our city is experiencing and find a way to insert their voices in the ongoing conversations about the future of Newburgh.

mccartneyhesse-photo

To do so, we knew we needed to dream big. We created a global service learning program that provides students with the leadership skills they need in order to act as project managers for local community impact projects in Newburgh. Before implementing their projects, students in Global to Local will travel to a foreign country to study grassroots organizations working to better their communities. This June [2017], our first cohort will travel to Ecuador to volunteer at Casa Victoria, an organization that provides after-school homework help and hot meals to under-served youth in San Roque, a struggling section of Quito. Our students will work with young students, teaching them basic robotics, bringing books for their library, and building an outdoor learning center. When they return to Newburgh, they will research issues and build partnerships to create their own grassroots change in our city. The program, which blends project-based learning and inquiry with volunteer work and occurs both inside and outside of the ELA classroom, is an opportunity for us to re-position ourselves as learners alongside our students, who are already seeing the impact of this work before even stepping foot on a plane:

Brendin: Rather than taking a passive role in our lives, we make an effort to change our community for the better and improve our lives and the lives of those around us.

Jason: Through any experience in life, we learn new perspectives from others which shift our thinking.

Maribel: As students, we often find that volunteering creates a sense of empowerment because it allows people to influence and motivate others to do something about their issue of interest.

The process of making this dream a reality hasn’t been simple. We have written countless grant applications and waited two years to take our first research trip until we could secure the funding through Fund for Teachers. We cried with a student who was one of the strongest and most dedicated leaders in our program as we faced the fact that she couldn’t come to Ecuador because she was undocumented and therefore unable to obtain a passport. We have struggled, at times, to manage the complicated logistics of fundraising for and planning an overseas trip while teaching full-time. We know we will have to help our students navigate the roadblocks they will encounter as they take on roles as change agents in our city, but we hope that we serve as role models of persistence and optimism.

We have learned that the best ideas are continually evolving, involve inviting students to the table, and require the tenacity to tackle difficult and sometimes controversial issues that affect our students and our city. When we think about the work we have undertaken to make this a reality, we often come back to the amazingly resilient young people with whom we work. They are the reason we have the courage to dream big.

Christine McCartney, NCTE member since 2013, started her teaching career by volunteering to teach writing in an all-male maximum security prison in New York through the Bard Prison Initiative; that experience was the beginning of her journey as a social justice educator. As a high school English teacher for over a decade in Newburgh, a Fulbright alumni, and a codirector of the Hudson Valley Writing Project, Christine is wedded to working to make her community a better place.

 Jacqueline Hesse, NCTE member since 2005, teaches ninth- and tenth-grade ELA at Excelsior Academy, a New York State P-TECH school, in Newburgh. She enjoys volunteering alongside her students and admires their devotion to their community. Jackie is also a teacher consultant with the Hudson Valley Writing Project.

“Cultural Studies, Critical Analysis, and Comedy”

This post is written by member Cody Miller.

For the past three years, I have used episodes of Fresh off the Boat and Black-ish to explore issues of race, identity, and power within my ninth grade English language arts classroom. More recently, I have added Master of None, loosely based on creator Aziz Ansari’s own experiences, to my curriculum. These episodes are paired with other texts like Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese, Sherman Alexie’s Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Sarah Jamila Stevenson’s The Latte Rebellion, and Sara Farizan’s Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel. All of these texts analyze how dominant cultural values are embedded in school culture and continue to privilege some citizens while marginalizing others. The episodes have always been well received by my students and are cited frequently in essays. I am also glad to see how students draw connections between and write across different types of texts, which helps fulfill the mandates of state standards. At the end of the year, I have students take a survey in which they rate the various texts we analyze based on educational and entertainment value. Needless to say, the episodes of Fresh off the Boat, Black-ish, and Master of None manage to score the highest in both categories.

I have more recently started to incorporate stand-up comedy specials in my curriculum to develop students’ critical literacy capacities. As a teacher who imagines my secondary English language arts classroom as a site for cultural studies, I see stand-up comedies as texts worthy of analysis like any other text. I have used a clip from a Trevor Noah comedy special in which Noah documents how his racial identity is interpreted by sociocultural norms employed by different geographies. We use this clip to then discuss how racial identities are not homogenous across the globe and how different governments have used race as a method to sort and disenfranchise groups both domestically and abroad.

Recently I watched comedian and Daily Show cast member Hasan Minhaj’s excellent stand-up special, Homecoming King. Based on his own experiences growing up as a child of Muslim Indian immigrants, Minhaj explores the barriers for immigrants and children of immigrants that exist in the United States. Similar to American Born Chinese and Fresh Off the Boat, Minhaj details the ways in which his white, Anglophonic teachers dehumanized him by never learning the proper pronunciation of his name. He documents how racism shaped deceptively simple teenage rites of passages such as dating in his high school experience. In the special’s most poignant segment, Minhaj discusses growing up Muslim in a post-9/11 world. Specifically, he details a hate crime his family experienced and how it emotionally and psychologically alienated him in his own country. At a time when hate crimes and Islamophobia are on the rise in both everyday life and policy, Minhaj’s commentary on “othering” and “shades of bigotry” is one students need to hear now more than ever. (2017)

Teachers must do more than just press “play” when incorporating stand-up comedy specials or comedy series. Students need instructional strategies to frame and understand the critical issues these texts address. Multicultural scholars Lee, Sleeter, and Kumashiro (2015) offer a framework for immigrant students and students of immigrant families to analyze and document their family histories, which includes “four Ps”: What pushed your family out of their home country? What pulled your family to the United States? What privileges did your family have when coming to the United States? How was your family punished in the United States? Although their framework is used for students’ actual family histories, the framework can be used to analyze stand-up comedies and comedy series like Homecoming King, Master of None, and Fresh Off the Boat as all these texts are either autobiographical or based on fictionalized retelling of true events by the authors. Using the four Ps to analyze the comedies mentioned can support students in developing more critical understandings of immigration experiences and issues, which are often covered in the news with inaccuracies, gross generalizations, and a dearth of the voices of actual immigrants.

A recent NCTE Twitter chat focused on the power of popular culture within English classrooms. Participating in that chat and seeing how other educators use popular culture with their students was encouraging. There has always been wisdom in comedy. We never question that logic when we are reading Shakespeare. We should not question it when we are watching stand-ups such as Homecoming King or comedy series like Master of None or Black-ish. Comedy can offer students a way to develop critical lenses to analyze and critique oppressive forces within their own immediate lives and the world at-large. Former First Lady Michelle Obama understood the value of comedy better than perhaps any public figure. While extolling the virtues of pop culture in an interview with Variety, Obama noted that in order to lead and teach, “First you get them to laugh, then you get them to listen.”

References

Lee, J., Sleeter, C., & Kumashiro, K. (2015). Interrogating identity and social contexts through “critical family history.” Multicultural Perspectives, 17(1), 28–32. doi/abs/10.1080/15210960.2015.994426

Minhaj, H. (Writer/Performer), & Storer, C. (Director) (2017). Homecoming king [Television special]. Los Gatos, CA: Netflix.

Noah, T. (Writer/Performer), & Meyer, D. P. (2017). Afraid of the dark [Television special]. Los Gatos, CA: Netflix.

Noah, T. (2016). Born a crime: Stories from a South African childhood. New York, NY: Spiegel & Grau

Cody Miller teaches ninth-grade English language arts at P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, the University of Florida’s affiliated K12 laboratory school. He can be reached at cmiller@pky.ufl.edu or on Twitter @CodyMillerPKY.

Putting Citizenship in Global Perspective in the ELA Classroom

drvivianThe following post is by Vivian Yenika-Agbaw, professor of education at Penn State Univeristy. This is part of an ongoing monthly series from the NCTE Standing Committee on Global Citizenship.

Global Citizenship “is a way of living that recognises our world is an increasingly complex web of connections and interdependencies. One in which our choices and actions may have repercussion for people and communities locally, nationally or internationally” (Ideas for Global Citizenship).

This concept is of particular interest to us as we celebrate our nation’s independence on the Fourth of July. It allows us to ponder how our ancestors had managed to secure our freedom as a nation from the British, and how we had to wrestle with the contradictory content of our Constitution that celebrates the right to be free while still holding others in bondage.

Therefore, we should take this time to contemplate deeply what it means to be an American citizen, and who should be considered an American. As we reflect on this nationalistic notion of citizenship, we should also consider engaging in dialogues of what it means to be a global citizen, especially in a world where leaders are constantly rethinking physical boundaries in order to hold tight to their national identities, and the tension such nationalistic views might create. In so doing, they undermine major aspects of our collective humanity that allow us to cultivate a nurturing world for everyone. Many do not realize that what we do within our local communities can and does impact communities in other regions of the world, for we are interconnected in this way, even when we engage in charity work that touches many across the globe, or participate in political rallies to make democracy possible elsewhere.

Ronald C. Israel, co-founder of the Global Citizens’ Initiative, observes that,

Most of us on the path to global citizenship are still somewhere at the beginning of our journey. Our eyes have been opened and our consciousness raised. Instinctively, we feel a connection with others around the world yet we lack the adequate tools, resources, and support to act on our vision. Our ways of thinking and being are still colored by the trapping of old allegiances and ways of seeing things that no longer are as valid as they used to be. There is a longing to pull back the veil that keeps us from more clearly seeing the world as a whole and finding more sustainable ways of connecting with those who share our common humanity.

If fathoming how one can be an American citizen and yet be able to perceive oneself as a global citizen may seem challenging, perhaps we should start by examining how we serve our local communities on a regular basis.

Community Services: Local and Global Connections

Many educators are already engaged in practices that impact global communities and reflect their global citizenry even if they are not aware. At a spring 2017 professional development school conference in State College, PA, I attended a session where a teacher presented about a partnership with a school in Africa where they collect books and send them to students. This session was of particular interest to me because I know firsthand how difficult it is for schoolteachers in several public schools across the continent to find basic educational resources for their classrooms.

Also, having served as a member of the Children’s Africana Book Awards committee, I am also privy to book publication initiatives on topics such as The Water Project. One such publication is a picture book, Gizo-Gizo, on the Zongo Story Project that emerged from a partnership between Emily Williamson and John Schaidler from Minneapolis and the Hassaniyya Quranic School in Ghana. The back matter notes:

Working closely with local teachers, Emily Williamson carried out a series of educational workshops at [the school] to teach students about local water and environmental concerns. . . . Building on previous work at his children’s schools in Minneapolis and New York City, John [Schaidler] spent the summers . . . in the remote village of Humjibre in Ghana’s Western District.

For more on this, check out www.zongostoryproject.com. The water problem is local to that specific community, but the solution takes a collective effort that includes a global initiative involving communities from two continents. This is one way we connect at the human level.

Several picture books have documented these types of global partnerships.

Suggested Titles

Environment

Where the Forest Meets the Sea by Jeannie Baker
One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul
The Water Princess by Georgie Badiel and Susan Verde; illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds

Religious Diversity

Faith by Maya Ajmera, Cynthia Pon, and Magda Nakassis
Sacred Places by Philemon Sturges; illustrated by Giles Laroche

Refugees

The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney
Pablo Finds a Treasure by Andrée Poulin; illustrated by Isabelle Malenfant

Education

For the Right to Learn by Rebecca Langston-George; illustrated by Janna Bock

Activism

Counting on Community by Innosanto Nagara
A is for Activist by Innosanto Nagara


More Global Citizenship Resources

Worlds of Words: Building bridges across global cultures through children’s and adolescent literature

Africa Access: Links to a variety of resources on topics related to the continent of Africa

Teaching Good Citizenship’s Five Themes, from Education World: A focus on the five basic themes of good citizenship (honesty, compassion, respect, responsibility, and courage)

Picture Books about Citizenship

Digital Citizenship: Explores the “9 Key Ps” of digital citizenship

Seven strategies to get children talking and thinking about digital citizenship

Teens and Digital Citizenship: Responsible digital citizenship can help your child have a safer and more satisfying experience online.

OXFAM’s guide for global citizenship

A free lesson plan on a global citizenship workshop


Work Cited

Israel, Roland (2012). “What Does It Mean to be a Global Citizen?” Kosmos: Journal for Global Transformation. http://www.kosmosjournal.org/article/what-does-it-mean-to-be-a-global-citizen/  Accessed: June 22, 2017.