EdTalks cover multilingualism and critical consciousness

California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) held its first virtual EdTALKS series of the school year on Oct. 21. Speakers included associate professor Joanna Wong and assistant professor Suzanne García-Mateus, who both are faculty at the Department of Education and Leadership. The series was funded by Project POPPY, a teacher support effort under the United States Department of Education’s Teacher Quality Partnership program.

The event was emceed by associate professor Kerrie Chitwood, who provided backgrounds for both speakers and introduced the subject of culturally sustaining teaching to the audience. 

Wong spoke on achieving culturally and lingusitically sustaining literacy instruction. Currently, the way reading and writing are taught treats multilingual backgrounds as problematic in the classroom, despite the fact that more than 40 percent of Californian students speak a language other than English. 

“Children from marginalized backgrounds do not see themselves or their communities’s histories and achievements represented in classic texts and curriculum,” Wong said. “These practices are oppressive and perpetuate systemic opportunity gaps.” 

Wong built her literacy framework off of several pedagogy sources, including Gloria Ladson-Billings’s book “Culturally Relevant Teaching” and Luis Moll’s journal article “Funds of Knowledge for Teaching: Using a Qualitative Approach to Connect Homes and Classrooms.”

Her proposed framework, culturally sustaining pedagogy, focuses on honing into student multilingualism as an asset. 

“As educators, we must serve an asset-based perspective towards the students we serve, and strive to integrate students’ diverse ways of being, knowing, and languaging in classrooms,” said Wong. 

In order to adopt culturally sustaining pedagogy, Wong offered several teaching practices, such as engaging in critical self-reflection and tapping into the inventory of students’ home lives for instructional use. She also suggested the use of writing strategies such as the use of multilingual texts and inviting students to use their full communicative repertoire. 

García-Mateus spoke on her own longitudinal research project. She spent four years studying a white student (aliased “Tessa”) in a two-way bilingual classroom, located at a Texas school in the midst of gentrification. Her findings pinpoint the way in which whiteness manifests in bilingual education.

From kindergarten to third grade, Tessa’s bilingualism was seen as beneficial, while her Latinx classmates’ bilingualism was seen as evidence of struggle. Initially taking on a helping role in the classroom, Tessa eventually usurped her Spanish-speaking peers and teacher by third grade as the “white listening expert.”

By fifth grade, she mostly spoke in English, and recalled that she only used her bilingualism when her family vacationed in Spain. 

“This to me was one of the biggest [pieces of] evidence that she did not develop critical consciousness across five years in this dual language program,” García-Mateus said.

To García-Mateus, critical consciousness is an essential piece missing in bilingual education, the lack of which harms students of color. Critical consciousness is the awareness of the social and political impacts on the world, and must be intentionally developed to prevent whiteness from overpowering spaces for students of color. 

The audience was able to submit speaker questions after both presentations. Wong and García-Mateus talked about California’s bilingual education, books that validated them, and what the process of cultivating a multilingual classroom looks like. Both agreed that understanding one’s racial identity was crucial for prospective educators. 

“It’s important that we all engage in self-inquiry… It’s really important that we are very conscious about the privileges we have, and privileges that we don’t have,” Wong said. 

García-Mateus added that community testimonials can be used to share experiences with marginalization and reflect on racial identity.

The event closed with the opportunity for participants to enter breakout rooms and discuss matters of educational equity. Another EdTALKS is expected to be held in Spring 2022.

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