Exploring Linguistic Diversity From the Inside Out: Implications of Self-Reflexive Inquiry for Teacher Education

November 1, 2019

Source: Journal of Teacher Education. Volume: 70 issue: 5, page(s): 581-596

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

As language is taken-for-granted in daily life, teacher educators who are not language experts predictably rely on texts and tasks at arm’s length from deep, personal engagement with language.
In contrast, the present study aligns with innovations seeking integrity between proposed teaching processes and teacher education (TE) pedagogy.
The authors explore “walking the talk” of reflecting on language in ways TE espouses for K-12, moving beyond a tendency to look through rather than at language (de Jong & Harper, 2005).
Robust theories of teacher learning are needed to understand what TE pedagogies yield—for example, what it means to learn from one’s own or others’ experience (Grossman, 2005). This study features self-reflexive inquiry into language, from the inside out, examining one’s own complex language uses and situating these in linguistically diverse peer and sociopolitical contexts.

This study draws from a 4-year research program at a California university.
The context was an upper division undergraduate course, Cultural Diversity and Education in a Sociopolitical Context, for future teachers, education minors, and others.
The class met 10 weeks, twice weekly, 40 hr. total.
Topics included sociopolitical perspectives on unequal distribution of economic, legal, and social resources; ways institutions perpetuate inequity; and how educators can redress inequities.

Participants (N = 262) were four undergraduate cohorts, 2011-2014 (annual average 65.5).
Students reported roots in five continents and 30 nations.
In an open-response survey question, two thirds used their own self-selected terminology and identified as students of color or mixed.
The class was a rich context to explore communicative repertoires, with 72% reporting teaching as a definite or possible career, many admitted annually to TE programs.
The course was writing-intensive, with many reflection opportunities related to language, identities, and ideas for teaching.

Data Collection
Data included 262 Personal Language Inventories collected over 4 years.
The authors audiotaped selected classroom discourse, to capture ways discussion unfolded and may have shaped reflections on language.
The Language Profile Survey explored proficiencies in languages other than English and used seven Likert-type-scale items on forms of language use.
The Language Beliefs Survey used 10 items on beliefs about how language reveals intelligence, who is responsible for language development, and ways people use/should use language, suggesting language ideology elements.
They administered the Language Beliefs survey in weeks 1 and 10, to invite conceptions of language twice over the term.
The authors collected 77 Reflective Commentaries from the most recent cohort in 4 years of study, as a sampling of the full database.
Demographics for this cohort reflected those of the full participant group.
These papers ran three to five pages each, including four mini-essays in which students situated autobiographies in sociopolitical context.

How Do I Use Language?
In diverse contexts. A staggering array of contexts shaped reported language use.
Students noted surprise at their complex communicative repertoires.
Many noted this was the first time they analyzed their language.
Inventories evidence documentation of “taken-for-granted characteristics of everyday talk” (Valdés et al., 2005, p. 127).
Students also reported heightened awareness of how fluidly they shifted language across contexts. In students’ words, language forms emerge and with ease, marking fluidity.
Many students reported shifts from broad language labels (“English,” “Chinese”) to viewing language uses as “choices” on a “spectrum,” noting nuances with which “language takes on distinct patterns.” Casting language shifts as tools marks value in language varieties, fluidly navigating contexts.
Students reported heightened awareness of diverse purposes for language that reflected performing a self and using language to indicate belonging/solidarity.
A performance of self through language shaped others’ impressions, indexing facets of identities. At university, students performed an academic, intellectual self. Bilingual students and many students of color reported how this performance was crucial in response to biased perceptions they encountered.
Numerous examples by bilingual students of color linked race and language.

In student reports, language supported belonging and solidarity, 97% agreeing with “People use language to connect or fit in depending on the setting.”
Language of intimacy (Tan, 1999) included pet names and shared history; outsiders would not grasp coded meanings.
Establishing solidarity included other tensions.
Students agreed (79% week 1, 85% week 10) with “People’s language use is strongly connected to their cultural identity.”
Bilinguals reported living this reality: language maintenance was linked with heritage, and language loss with sadness or shame.
In complex ways within contexts. Scholars contest formal/ informal accounts of language arguing this binary is inaccurate and promotes policing of nondominant languages in schools (Orellana, Martinez, Lee, & Montaño, 2012; Vasquez et al., 1994/2008). Acknowledging the critique, the authors began with formal/informal distinctions to honor students’ emic perspectives, a start toward expanding language conceptions (Martinez et al., 2017).
Family was a site for what students deemed informal language (45% of family reports)—of intimacy, effortlessness, and hybrid languages with siblings especially. However, 29% of reports on family were coded as formal.
Reports on university language overall were coded as formal (85%), referencing “standard English” to sound intellectual, expert-like in a discipline.
Although students reported constraints on spontaneity, several noted academic language potential for innovation and creativity.
Although few students (13% week 1, 12% week 10) agreed with “Intelligent people use language correctly,” many reported the primary purpose of language at university was to be viewed as intelligent. Self-monitoring pushed some to appropriate new linguistic resources, but some bilingual students reported not participating in discussions for fear of being judged for their accent or English use.
Although some valued formal language uses at university, reports of constraints on creativity, authenticity, and participation (especially for bilinguals) problematize mainstream expectations of strictly formal language in academic contexts.
Also complicating a formal/informal binary, many reported mixing language within and across contexts.
Students revealed performances of diverse selves, using playful language at times, tightly moderated forms at others.
Findings demonstrate diverse students’ awareness of their fluid language use, seeding ideas for potential take-up in shaping linguistically dynamic classroom cultures.

Discussion and Implications
The authors note that their study makes several contributions to research and practice in TE pedagogy focused on linguistically responsive teaching.

First, responding to calls to prepare teachers to explore “taken-for-granted characteristics of everyday talk” (Valdés et al., 2005, p. 127), they provide evidence that education students (three-fourths intending to teach) used self-reflexive inquiry to look at and not merely through language (de Jong & Harper, 2005).
In doing so, they surfaced discoveries about language contexts, fluidity, and purposes, complicating rigid categories, including formal/informal distinctions.

Second, they describe how students began with the self but situated inquiries in sociopolitical context, aided by discourse in linguistically diverse cohorts, as well as readings, speakers, and other resources. Self-reflexive inquiry without resources for framing and critique risks solipsism. Concepts cited included cultural hybridity, intersectionality, and linguicism, important for exploring ideologies that shape classroom cultures to empower students in language and learning (Palmer, 2011).

This study highlights how discussions of linguistic diversity must go beyond bilingual learners to include all whose languages do not mirror those expected in schools.
Such discussions must engage White monolingual teachers to disrupt normalization of White ways with words and assumptions that all White people speak the same.
They must also engage teachers of color and bilinguals to surface and leverage their communicative repertoires, as they too may have internalized narrow language ideologies.
All K-12 students, their teachers, and teacher educators, across content areas, need to consider language diversity.
It also is important to explore how all forms of negative judgment about language are not equal; judgments about intelligence that shape access to economic and educational opportunities are different than intragroup biases.
Without such attention, we may promote false equivalencies about language judgments and their impacts.

de Jong, E. J., Harper, C. A. (2005). Preparing mainstream teachers for English-language learners: Is being a good teacher good enough? Teacher Education Quarterly, 32, 101-124.
Grossman, P. (2005). Research on pedagogical approaches in teacher education. In Cochran-Smith, M., Zeichner, K. M. (Eds.), Studying teacher education: Report of the AERA panel on research and teacher education (pp. 425-476). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Martínez-Álvarez, P., Cuevas, I., Torres-Guzmán, M. (2017). Preparing bilingual teachers: Mediating belonging with multimodal explorations in language, identity, and culture. Journal of Teacher Education, 68(2), 155-178.
Orellana, M. F., Martinez, D. C., Lee, C., Montaño, E. (2012). Language as a tool in diverse forms of learning. Linguistics and Education, 23(4), 373-387.
Palmer, D. (2011). The discourse of transition: Teachers’ language ideologies within transitional bilingual education programs. International Multilingual Research Journal, 5(2), 103-122.
Tan, A. (1999). Mother tongue. In Gillespie, S., Singleton, R. (Eds.), Across cultures (pp. 26-31). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon.
Valdés, G., Bunch, G., Snow, C., Lee, C., Matos, L. (2005). Enhancing the development of students’ language(s). In Darling-Hammond, L., Bransford, J. (Eds.), Preparing teachers for a changing world: What teachers should learn and be able to do (pp. 126-168). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Vasquez, O. A., Pease-Alvarez, L., Shannon, S. (2008). Pushing boundaries: Language and culture in a Mexicano community. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. (Original work published 1994) 

Updated: Jun. 28, 2020