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Embracing an abundance mindset in supporting multilingual learners

Classroom of engaged students with teacher.

New Teacher Center recently hosted an internal learning session with Dr. Jose Medina, a prominent national language leader and researcher. The session focused on the concept of linguistic liberation — adopting an additive and abundance mindset towards supporting multilingual learners — and creating enabling conditions for affirming and enriching student learning environments.

Dr. Medina underscored the importance of schools and teachers approaching multilingual learner education through additive rather than subtractive bilingualism. This approach prioritizes the ongoing development of a student’s first language as a linguistic, academic, and cultural asset, rather than promoting the acquisition of another language at the expense of the first.

He emphasized the critical roles of translanguaging and metalinguistic awareness in supporting multilingual learners’ continuous language development. These practices facilitate the transfer of linguistic knowledge across languages, fostering an affirming and enriching learning environment for all students.

Dr. Medina links linguistic liberation to cultivating robust dual language education as a means of achieving equitable outcomes for multilingual students. He stresses that educators must create and design learning experiences that integrate content, language, and culture. Dual language education is a cornerstone of this strategy.

According to Dr. Medina, the objectives of dual language education include:

  • Bilingualism and biliteracy
  • Grade-level academic achievement in both program languages
  • Sociocultural competence and critical consciousness

"There is language everywhere…"

Teacher Leslie Pigozzi, a multilingual learner herself, shares how she affirms her students’ linguistic diversity and nurtures an abundance mindset.

Our staff embraced this engaging org-wide professional learning session. We asked Brittany Cora, Rebecca Flores, Allison Paul, and Sasha Vazquez to reflect on their experiences and highlights from the session.

Why are metalinguistic awareness and translanguaging crucial for teachers to understand and support in the classroom for students?

Becca: I believe we’re all multilingual. We hold so many different language practices within our linguistic repertoire (our language bubble, as Dr. Medina says). Yet, not all of these language practices are embraced, encouraged, and sustained in classrooms. These language practices make up who we are, how we interact and process the world around us, how we make connections and develop relationships, and how we learn new information. When educators do not understand their students’ (and even their own) strengths as multilingual people, they cannot fully know, support, and cultivate their students’ social, emotional, and academic growth. Fostering opportunities for all students to develop metalinguistic awareness and incorporating translanguaging pedagogy is essential for students’ content knowledge development, but it also deepens relationships and builds community within our classrooms.

What does linguistic liberation, when achieved, mean for students and teachers?

Brittany: When linguistic liberation is achieved, it says that we value what makes each person them — that we genuinely care about their culture, values, unique perspective, and all the intricate parts of their person that make them uniquely themselves. For teachers and students, this means that we are embracing and allowing them to be their most authentic selves. As a teacher, I know I missed the mark in letting my students know that it was okay for them to bring their whole selves into the classroom. Acceptance is critical to linguistic liberation, and it’s also vital so that we as educators don’t perpetuate some of the same offenses that we experienced in our students.

Sasha: Moving towards linguistic liberation means that educators and students are accepted and valued holistically. For us at NTC, we can create professional learning that moves school leaders, coaches, and educators in the direction of linguistic liberation. For us to continuously move towards linguistic liberation is to thread culturally and linguistically sustaining teaching and learning throughout all of the education system and to echo that in the high-quality professional learning we design.

What would you have liked to see in your classroom that supported the unique needs of multilingual students?

Sasha: I was always incredibly fortunate to work in schools where multilingual students were the focus so when I think back I think of all the amazing professional development and curricular resources we cultivated in order to serve our students equitably. I would have loved to notice a deeper understanding of translanguaging and a more purposeful focus on leveraging the linguistic genius of students even when, or especially when the measures we would use to assess did not capture that multilingual genius equitably.

What were your big takeaways from the webinar with Dr. Medina?

Becca: I know the work that Dr. Medina speaks of very well, as it is my life’s work, but what always resonates with me is how Dr. Medina implements translanguaging pedagogy throughout his presentations and speaks using his full linguistic repertoire. When Dr. Medina languaged in Spanish, in the Spanish that I hear in my communities, and the Spanish that I heard from my grandparents in a professional and academic space, I found myself tearing up. When you grow up feeling embarrassed of your Spanish not being academic, not being professional, not being good enough, and then you also simultaneously grow up self-conscious of your other identities and are told by our educational system that your skills in English are not enough, it is incredibly confusing and damaging as a child. So when Dr. Medina speaks in Spanish, speaks in what people refer to as Spanglish, speaks in the Spanish that is in my family, it is a level of validation, that even after all these years in multilingual education and all of the internal work I have done and continue to do, that I didn’t know I desperately needed.

Allison: As classrooms become more diverse spaces, one of the ways we can build and perpetuate inclusion is by increasing teacher knowledge of and the ability to apply metalinguistic awareness and translanguaging strategies. Language is a significant component of identity, and for students to not only feel safe and comfortable using any language in their class but also know that this is an asset and something that is celebrated is the goal. Dr. Medina shared concrete strategies and personal stories to support NTC in developing our understanding of how to engage our partners in recognizing and leveraging the strengths that this group of students brings to our classroom and school communities.

Brittany Cora is director of program and partnerships at NTC. Rebecca Flores is director of design and innovation teacher induction at NTC. Allison Paul is a program consultant at NTC. Sasha Vazquez is an instructional designer and coach at NTC.