Category Archives: Learning Communities

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.

Mrs. Stuart Goes to Washington

This post is written by the 2017 NCTE Kent Williamson Policy Fellow Lauren Stuart. This will be the first of a weekly series. 

Greetings from Washington, DC.! I thought I would start by introducing myself. My name is Lauren Stuart and I teach 8th- (and soon 6th-) grade ELA for the Beverly Hills Unified School District.

I am honored to be this year’s Kent B. Williamson Fellow. What does that mean? As a way to honor Kent Williamson’s dedication to teacher leadership, NCTE established this fellowship, which allows a member to come to DC and be immersed in education policy. Each week during my stay, I will share my experiences with you. Also, you can follow me along daily on Twitter @laurenpstuart.

Week 1

The week began with a training from the McKeon Group on both education policy and NCTE’s priorities. I was reminded that the actual policymaking process is nothing like the textbook version.

As a member, you should know that NCTE is asking Congress to support ESSA’s Title I, $190 million for LEARN, and student grant and loan programs. NCTE is also asking Congress not to eliminate Title II funds. If you would like to contact your representatives to discuss these priorities, let me know and I will help you make contact with them. You can write me at laurenpstuart@gmail.com.

My second day brought me together with our esteemed Executive Director, Emily Kirkpatrick, as well. We traveled together to sit in on the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) Summer Legislative Institute. NCSS and NCTE share the same concerns! Our colleagues have proven that social studies is relevant, needed, and wanted by our students, and yet they must constantly convince decision makers to fund their programs. Participants visited their legislators, and most had positive responses. If you know a social studies teacher who would like to get involved, encourage them to join NCSS and attend the NCSS annual convention this year.

I was also able to attend School Vouchers and Segregation, an event at the American Federation of Teachers headquarters. The Center for American Progress released a paper on this topic, and brought together a panel for discussion. Congressman Bobby Scott (D-VA) opened the session by stating that research shows that vouchers negatively affect student achievement. He urged the government to support public schools and not divert funds to private schools.

Justin Reid from the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities told the story of Prince Edward County, and how their students came to be a part of the class action lawsuit that became Brown v. Board of Education. What I did not know was that because of the verdict, the Board of Supervisors decided to shut down the schools for five years instead of integrating. Kids went five years without an education. In addition, white students were given tuition grants to attend private schools, which led to segregated schools.

Also in attendance at this event was Catherine Lhamon, the Chair of the Commission on Civil Rights. She called for a promise from the federal government to ensure simple justice and civil rights for all students.

People and Opportunities to Watch

This section will highlight people I met while in town, as well as opportunities I come across.

Jill Cullis, Bill of Rights Institute.

Jill is a fellow Hope Street Group alum hailing from Colorado Springs. She was in town for the Bill of Rights Institute, Founder’s Fellowship. “It was a week of incredibly rich discussion based upon primary source documents in history. I rarely get professional development that is content based so the week with the BRI was so valuable to improving my instruction in US History.”

Doug Hodum, Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship

Doug is a science teacher from Maine who is here on a yearlong fellowship.

Luella Wagner

Luella is a fellow Californian, who was here for the NCSS SLI. I loved chatting with her about her interest in Native American studies and being a studio teacher.

Lauren Pfeffer Stuart is an 8th grade ELA teacher for the Beverly Hills Unified School District. She is a Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow and a Teach Plus California Fellow. She has two young boys and lives in Sherman Oaks.

 

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.

Sneak Peek: July 2017 English Journal

This post is written by members Julie Gorlewski and David Gorlewski, editors of English Journal.

The work of teaching illustrates the adage that change is a constant. Teaching is framed by many constants: schedules, rhythms, routines, and expectations based in national memory and local nostalgia. And teaching is also marked by change: different groups of students every year, not to mention every 42 minutes or so; different texts and expectations driven by technological and social innovations. Teachers practice in spaces of praxis, spaces of simultaneous constancy and change.

In our daily lives, we may become accustomed to living in flux while fixed in amber, but for many educators, summer offers a chance for reflection. Away from the days divided by bells and evenings filled with student papers to grade, teachers may have time to think about what to keep and what to change. With quiet space and time to read, teachers can consider new methods and explore new texts.

Authors in this issue stretch our imaginations and offer opportunities to reflect on what works. Themes featured involve enduring aspects of English classrooms, for example, teaching writing, which is examined from five perspectives. Authors in this issue emphasize authenticity in student writing, investigate teacher and peer responses to student writing, and analyze student and teacher perceptions of argumentative writing in the context of the Common Core. While all of the articles share the topic of writing, this constant is complemented by the lenses through which it is viewed. This issue offers a new approach to literature circles as well as articles that highlight the arts. Poetry, another staple of English classrooms, is amplified through spoken words, and video games extend our definitions of texts.

This issue, which is situated in decades of previous volumes of EJ, is focused on interactions of students and teachers as our lives intersect with one another and with classic and contemporary texts. We hope that the combination of constancy and change helps you find new perspectives on established practices, and imagine how democratic classrooms can prepare today’s learners to lead tomorrow’s world.

juliegorlewskidavidgorlewski2Former English teachers, Julie Gorlewski and David Gorlewski work with preservice and practicing educators, and with educational leaders, to create instructional opportunities that empower students with language.