Tag Archives: Bilinguial Students

Building Confianza

This post was written by Trisha Collopy, a Minneapolis-based writer and editor.

When I spoke to Steven Alvarez in June, he had been watching videos of recent racist rants caught on cell  phones, most directed at people speaking Spanish in public spaces. The incidents left him shaking his head.

“In my research, I’ve never met a family of adults who didn’t want to learn English,” he said. “Parents understand the pressure” to help their kids with homework and ensure they aren’t stuck on a low-wage job track.

Alvarez is the author of a new book for NCTE, Community Literacies en Confianza: Learning from Bilingual After-School Programs, in which he discusses his work with two programs for English language learners in Kentucky: the KUL after-school club for high-school students and Valle del Bluegrass library, which offered extensive bilingual programming.

Alvarez’s own family history is a time capsule of the English-only approach and its effect on families. His father, growing up in the 1950s in Arizona near the Mexican border, had teachers who would hit him when he spoke Spanish in class. As a result, Alvarez and his siblings were raised speaking English—and Alvarez had to relearn Spanish in college.

“In my own family, we went from Spanish-dominant to English in one generation, and that’s the emerging trend,” Alvarez says.

“There are lots of arguments about why immigrants don’t learn English, but immigrants are learning English faster now than they ever have.”

“Historically it has been a three-generation process,” he says. But now the transition is happening so rapidly that immigrant parents struggle to talk to their English-only children.

“Taco Literacy”

Alvarez, who now teaches at St. John’s University in Queens, New York, and coordinates the college’s first-year writing program, has distilled his work with after-school programs to a classroom approach that leans heavily on ethnography and personal writing.

A “Taco Literacy” course he taught at the University of Kentucky took off in a big way, attracting national media attention from the Huffington Post and Univision. The upper-division writing class explored the region’s changing demographics through research into local food culture. It sent students out in the community to meet owners of food trucks and taquerias, and brought journalists, food critics, and the owner of a tortilla factory into the classroom as guest speakers.

“It was the coolest class I ever taught, mostly because students in class got to know each other,” Alvarez says. “They got to eat together, got talking about food, looking at the local community, learning about their local environment.”

The class got students out of their dorms and into the community, sometimes in Latinx neighborhoods where English was no longer the dominant language.  Students blogged and shared a common Instagram hashtag #tacoliteracy (students had individual accounts) so they could follow each other’s food adventures during the semester. They slipped between languages when learning how to order from Spanish-language menus. They talked to professional food writers about branding and social media and how a food writer got his first job at the local newspaper.

Alvarez says a similar class on local foodways could be adapted to any community. And he says this kind of ethnographic research allows students to complete lots of low-stakes writing, interviewing, field notes, and other research, and build, revise and edit that into more polished projects in English.

“The reality is that academic language is not anybody’s home language,” Alvarez adds. “It takes years to learn.”

Telling Stories, Building Community

“High-stakes standardized testing,” says Alvarez, “really fractures ways of building community.”

His work in the classroom and with after-school programs is an antidote to that, a way of bringing students and teachers back into relationship with each other.

He admits that the relationship-building takes time. In Community Literacies en Confianza, he suggests small steps teachers can take: holding parent-teacher conferences in community spaces, bringing in outside speakers, assigning students to create oral histories and ethnographies.

“The most important thing to think about is the communities that students build outside of the classroom, build around shared experiences,” he says.  Because it’s in those spaces that the real learning begins.

Read more about Alvarez’s work in the article “Building Confianza—Trust—Outside the Classroom” in the September 2017 Council Chronicle.

Read a sample chapter or order the book.

Check out Alvarez’s On Demand Web seminar: “Confidence in Community Literacies: Bilingual Writers Reading the World

Alvarez discusses his book in Community Literacies en Confianza, Part I and Community Literacies en Confianza, Part II. 

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.