My personal ideology on biliteracy instruction is that it is a direct link to social change. I believe this true for education in general, but being biliterate (or multiliterate) is a humongous door to acceptance and empathy. I believe that when people know more than one language they are more likely to be open and curious about their fellow humans who share those languages and they are more likely to be open and curious about cultures on the other side of the world from the languages they do know. I think about how much I have learned, enjoyed, and benefitted from knowing Spanish, Portuguese and American Sign Language (ASL), that it makes me wonder what else is out there that I can learn, enjoy, and benefit from in parts of the world far from my Spanish and Portuguese and ASL connections. I’d want nothing more to speak ten more languages and visit those parts of the world and talk to their cab drivers and bar tenders and eat their food and listen to their music in their local square. I can only speak for myself, but my hopes are that knowing other languages and becoming curious about other cultures breeds a sense of empathy and oneness in people. I’m aware of how divided humans tend to be, and call me ambitious, but I think that this is a way to tear down walls of prejudice and racism. Because I have been privileged enough to visit several parts of the world and I know how valuable and precious multilingualism and exposing oneself to different cultures is, I want to bring that into my classroom as much as I can. And doing so in another language on top of this country’s ‘dominant’ one takes my drive and hopes even further.
Because the theory of Sociotransformative Constructivism states that meta-cognition is key to deep understanding and I am a huge fan of meta-cognition, I guide my students to practice meta-cognition and reflection. I ask them to think about what being bilingual means to them and why/if they think it’s important. I guide them to think about how they benefit from being bilingual now, and how they can benefit in the future. I also ask them if others can benefit from their bilingualism. Sociotransformative Constructivism also states that authenticity is key to learning. Therefore, I try to incorporate personally and socially relevant content in my classroom. (Rodriguez, 2000). This gets and keeps my students interested and invested in their learning.
During a poetry unit, I used the poem Bilingüe by Alma Flor Ada and my students absolutely loved it! (Hopefully they learned about repetición, versos and estrofas, etc. too.) In my lessons, I like to include content related to my students’ cultural background, and other cultures far from Latin America as well. I read them a story called La maceta vacía, a traditional Chinese story about honesty and integrity. We talked about how these values aren’t just Chinese values, but human values, and that there are likely similar stories from other parts of the world as well.
I like to celebrate the differences among cultures, but also recognize the vast similarities. Teaching alternative narratives and a culturally rich curriculum in English is awesome and crucial (and should be a given), and teaching alternative narratives and a culturally rich curriculum in another language is awesome and crucial and gives our kids a head start to making the world a loving place. I know it seems like a Hail Mary, but if people (kids) could see how similar we are and instead of being afraid or threatened by the unknown, be curious and excited about it, the future would look a lot brighter than it does to me right now.
1. Rodriguez, Alberto J. “Sociotransformative Constructivism: What Is It and How Can I Use It in My Classroom?” (2000).