Translanguaging and transformative pedagogy (Part 2): Jim Cummins writes about “Teachers as knowledge generators”

In Part 1, I discussed how Jim Cummins defines “transformative pedagogy” (Cummins, 2000) as collaborative relations of power between teachers and students, policymakers, curriculum designers, administrators, parents, communities, and academic researchers when they combine social justice with genuine concern for learning. In this post, I summarize Cummins’ (2021) more recent book chapter on what translanguaging and other forms of bi/multilingual pedagogy have to do with transformative pedagogy. This is followed by an AMAZING appendix—as worthy as the chapter itself—of recommended bi/multilingual initiatives to adapt to various settings depending on the part of the world, how old students are, and the purpose of the intervention (subject-specific, school-wide, etc.). “I am tempted to suggest especially to educators… to skip ahead to the final chapter [summarized in this blog post] if they want to know what works” (xxvii), said Lily Wong Fillmore, who wrote the Foreword to Cummins’ 2021 book. The series editor, Tove Skutnabb-Kangas, who wrote the Preface, explained: “Even when Jim emphasises the fact that situations and power relations are always context-dependent, many researchers in other parts of the world recognise the universality of much of Jim’s work and see its relevance for their own part of the world” (p. xxx).

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Cummins, J. (2021). Teachers as knowledge generators: Learning from inspirational pedagogy. In Rethinking the education of multilingual learners (pp. 309-367). Multilingual Matters.

1. How language-friendly is your school? Four types of increasingly transformative initiatives

What does a “language-friendly” school do? According to Cummins, there are four types of interventions, each potentially more transformative than the last:

  1. Implement simple everyday practices to make students’ languages seen and heard in the school.
  2. Use home languages for typical school activities like reading, research, and note-taking.
  3. Use technology in creative ways to build awareness of language, geography, and intercultural realities.
  4. Implement dual language project work in which the school takes responsibility for home language growth and maintenance.

The FIRST type of instructional intervention, making all students’ languages visible and audible in the school, may involve classes learning simple greetings (hello, thank you) in all the languages students speak and using them on a daily basis. Students become “teachers” who can show their peers and teacher how to write a few simple expressions in different scripts (Arabic, Chinese, Greek, etc.). Examples of student work in home and school languages are prominently displayed in the classroom, corridors, and the school entrance “to reinforce the message to parents, grandparents, caregivers, community members and students that students’ linguistic talents are seen as educational and personal assets within the school” (p. 315).

However, it shouldn’t stop there. While it already means a lot to people, it is even more impactful if it leads to learning. Cummins writes: “For example, if a Syrian student has brought an Arabic word to share with the teacher and her classmates, the activity could be extended to showing where Syria is on a map of the world and explaining some salient aspects of its culture and history” (p. 315). Even a few minutes’ discussion like this can raise students’ and teachers’ knowledge of other languages, cultures, and geography.

The SECOND type of instructional intervention is using home languages for typical school activities like reading, research, and note-taking. This can be combined with the THIRD type of intervention: technology can be used in creative ways to build awareness of language, geography, and intercultural realities. For example, when learning about content (e.g., cell structure and function in the human body; social issues and current events), teachers can ask students to use the Internet to access resources in their home languages relevant to this school work. In addition,

students could write… text in their home language and then use Google translate to generate a rough version in the school language. This rough version is usually sufficient to enable the teacher and other students to understand what the student is trying to express. The teacher and/or other students can then help the newcomer student edit this rough version into coherent text in the school language. (p. 320)

Some interesting recommendations are given for learning different subjects. For instance,

in the study of history, students from particular language groups could work together to create a timeline showing what was happening in their countries of origin at particular stages in history. In science, students could investigate what the effects of climate change are likely to be in their countries of origin in comparison to their new country.Tobin Zikmanis at Thornwood Public School taught a Data Management mathematics unit using data from a language survey of the entire school’s student population carried out by his students. (p. 320)

Yet as beneficial as these activities are, they do not easily facilitate continued development of language and literacy skills in any language but the dominant societal one. Thus, the FOURTH type of intervention takes responsibility for maintaining students’ home languages even if these are not official ones in the school and society. It overlaps with the second intervention, i.e., building school-based literacy skills in reading, research, and note-taking, because these skills transcend particular languages. Teachers can encourage parents or caregivers to read in their home languages to their children, expanding children’s knowledge of the world. Having background knowledge helps you understand the same topic when you learn about it in another language. (There’s a good Youtube clip about this called “Teaching Content is Teaching Reading.”)

For the fourth type of intervention, Cummins reports that one school in Toronto used its funding to keep the school library open after normal school hours, from 4 pm to 7 pm, so parents could read to their children when they picked them up from school. The school found ways to get books in students’ languages—made by students as class projects, or bought online, or donated by parents when their children finished reading them or grew out of them. [Side note: The Global Storybooks Project is an excellent resource for storybooks in many less commonly taught languages. To make use of it, all a school library needs is a few secondhand iPads.] Also, schools can invite community members to come to class to read and/or share their stories orally in the school language or a community language (with an interpreter), as some cultures have rich oral literacies rather than print-based literacies.

When schools help students create dual language books in partnership with their families and communities, the content is told in both the school language and a student’s home language. Students can likewise write bi/multilingual poetry or collaborate with partner classes in distant locations (across the world or across the city) to carry out a variety of projects involving dual or multiple languages. Again, this facilitates learning rather than losing home languages and connecting this learning to what is being learned at school. The more sustained the initiative, the more likely it is to be transformative. Cummins emphasizes how students are empowered (i.e., they feel good about themselves AND they learn a lot) when they engage in sustained (long-term) activity as language teachers and researchers themselves. For example:

Initiatives pursued by Rania Mirza, at the time a teacher in the York Region District Board of Education, include having volunteer students teach their languages to other students during the lunch break, and encouraging students to keep a travel journal, written in whatever language[s] they choose, when they visit their countries of origin during school holidays. Rania also encouraged newcomer students to use L1 [first language] diaries to reflect on their learning and to become aware of differences and similarities between their L1 and English [or whatever is the dominant language of that society]… American teacher Lori Langer de Ramirez (2012) has also described the operation of student-run language classes in Herricks Public schools in Long Island, New York. (p. 319)

Even though the time cost varies across different types of initiatives, Cummins concludes that none are really that “costly, complex, or radical” (p. 322), so most to all of them are doable in a wide range of places.

2. What kinds of bi/multilingual pedagogies existed before the rise of the term “translanguaging”?

In this section, Cummins outlines education initiatives which, unlike translanguaging approaches, did not question the existence of named languages. These earlier education initiatives posited that distinct languages existed, but that they should not be separated in teaching and learning; rather, they should integrated so that students could learn using their whole language repertoires. Also, they drew attention to strategies that could be used when the class was relatively linguistically similar, or relatively linguistically diverse.

WHEN THE CLASS IS (RELATIVELY) LINGUISTICALLY HOMOGENEOUS/SIMILAR

According to Rodolfo Jacobson (1981), in communities where students grow up bilingual (e.g., English-Spanish), adults switched codes to scaffold information, for example, using Language A to explain a statement in Language B (and vice versa on another occasion). Jacobson’s student Christian Faltis (1989) wrote what Cummins called “a robust [strong] defense” of Jacobson’s work, but “at the time the impact on policy and instructional practice was minimal” (p. 322). This is actually one of the major lost opportunities for better bi/multilingual and ESL pedagogy in the U.S.—the fact that for 30+ years, many people did not follow Jacobson’s and Faltis’ argument that a perceived shift in code (whether or not that code is a named language), called code-switching, can be potentially pedagogical, useful in scaffolding or mediation.

In 1990s Hong Kong, Angel Lin showed how a non-effective, non-pedagogical kind of code-switching was happening between Cantonese and English. In this context, students were subject to “target language only” classrooms (English-medium instruction in academic subjects), which meant that any use of their home language (Cantonese) tended to be minimal, “only when necessary.” because it was seen by society as sloppy and unprofessional. That is, teachers and students felt guilty and bad about themselves when they used Cantonese in English class, and hence they avoided it. This meant that Cantonese language use in the English-medium class was often unplanned, unpurposeful, unsystematic, and pedagogically ineffective (Lin, 1996, 1997). When people mentally deny that they do code-switching, they have no opportunity to think about how to do code-switching purposefully and educationally. Cummins writes:

Lin’s study was (to my knowledge) the first empirical research to cast doubt on the legitimacy of linguistic segregation in bilingual and L2 immersion contexts. Like the work of Jacobson (1981) and Faltis (1989), it was largely ignored at the time by researchers, educators and policymakers involved in bilingual and L2 immersion programmes. … Lin called for the development of ‘viable bi/tri/multi-lingual education approaches that will enable the majority of students to bridge the multiple linguistic gaps between their home world and their school world: the gaps between their mother tongue (Cantonese) and Chinese literacy, between Cantonese and spoken English, and between Chinese literacy and English literacy’ (1997: 288). (p. 323)

As long as the teacher and students largely share the same languages, teacher-led pedagogical code-switching works in whole-class teaching; I give an example at the end of this other post. But I ALSO argue that since pedagogical code-switching works in largely the same way between everyday and academic English as it does between two languages, there is NO reason why a teacher who only speaks English, teaching a linguistically diverse class, can’t model it between everyday and academic English, and then have students reproduce it between other languages in their small group work. This brings us to…

WHEN THE CLASS IS (RELATIVELY) LINGUISTICALLY HETEROGENEOUS/DIFFERENT

In the United States in the 1990s, Elsa Auerbach looked for ways to integrate students’ languages as “a normal component of classroom interaction” (p. 324), even though the students did not share the same home language and even if the teacher only spoke the dominant societal language (in this case, English). Auerbach (1993) observed that an English-only instructional approach was more ideological rather than evidence-based (i.e., people widely believed it was effective, despite lack of evidence). In 2016, she wrote, similar to Angel Lin: “My argument was not that teachers should indiscriminately enable use of learners’ first language, but that they should be selective, mindful, and respectful in their approach to this issue” (as cited in Cummins, 2021, p. 324).

Lucas, Henze, and Donato (1994) and Lucas and Katz (1994) synthesized strategies in nine “exemplary” ESL programs in the U.S. at the primary and secondary level: (1) students first expressed themselves in their L1, then worked with same-L1 peers to translate this into English to share with the class; (2) students used bilingual dictionaries/translators as a resource; (3) students were encouraged to discuss school work and get help in their L1s from family members; (4) books in students’ L1s were in the school library; (5) awards were given for excellence in languages, including those not commonly studied. The whole school conveyed the message that there were high academic expectations for students, that their languages would help them reach these high expectations, and that families had to be involved. DeFazio (1997), working at the International High Schools (IHS) in New York, also suggested that “students interview community members about social dimensions of language such as dialect, language prejudice, bilingual education, etc.” (as cited in Cummins, 2021, p. 326).

In the 1990s, DeFazio (1997) claimed that students entering IHS scored in the lowest quarter on tests of English proficiency, yet more than 90% graduated in the regular four years of high school and moved on to post-secondary education. Similar results were found in a school in Ireland called Scoil Bhríde (Little & Kirwin, 2018, 2019). At this school, despite the large number of students from immigrant backgrounds, for 20 years students consistently scored at or above the national average, although other European schools with many immigrant students tend to score low. They key, of course, is to change the negative representation of students’ home languages in school and society to a positive one, so that students engage in school learning with all the language resources they have (Auger, 2014).

When this was tried at a French school, one teacher commented: “Now they [the languages] exist in the class, before they did not really exist” (Hélot & Young, as cited in Cummins, 2021, p. 330). The researchers at that school, Hélot & Young, wrote: “[students] found their voice in French once their home language had been acknowledged in the school” (2006, pp. 80-81).

In Canada, particularly in Toronto where Cummins spent most of his career after the U.S., teacher-led research showed it was possible to teach ESL well using students’ languages even if there were many languages in the class and the teacher did not speak them. The key was to have students write “identity texts” that allowed them to share something of themselves, with possible impact discussed in this post. These identity texts often required parental/family support to complete (e.g., bilingual storybooks of the children’s family histories) (Cummins & Early, 2011; Schechter & Cummins, 2003). For 15 years, students at one elementary school created bilingual storybooks in many languages for the school website, which became resources for further generations of students to read along with their parents and maintain home language literacy—and this cultivated general reading skills applicable to reading in English. It was important for the story to be represented in both languages separately not because of language standardization, but to ensure that students learn how to express it in both languages: that English learning occurs and that students do not lose their home languages. Moreover, the text is not a random one students have to translate for a standardized test; it is the student’s own life story and the story of their family. These books can be displayed in the school library alongside books by “real” authors. A Toronto teacher deeply involved in such a project, Patricia Chow, stated:

The students love to see their languages displayed in this way and understand that their languages are acknowledged and valued in the classroom. They are therefore not inhibited in displaying their knowledge of additional languages [to maximize learning in any other class activities] and take pride in their linguistic expertise. (Chow & Cummins, 2003, pp. 46-47)

According to Cummins, the difference between these early works and most that followed after the rise of translanguaging is that the early works featured teachers as knowledge-generators. That is, researchers identified expert teachers who knew how to do pedagogical code-switching (if they were bilingual in the same languages as the students) or plurilingual pedagogy (which did not necessarily require a linguistically homogeneous class or a bi/multilingual teacher) and widely shared what these teachers were doing. Often, the intervention transcended the individual teacher’s class and involved a whole-school initiative engaging families and communities… complete with results showing academic effectiveness. Experienced/expert teaching + whole school initiative + partnership with families/communities = TRANSFORMATIVE PEDAGOGY.

3. Crosslinguistic pedagogy after the emergence of translanguaging

Much of the most well-known research on translanguaging comes from Ofelia García and her colleagues at the City University of New York State Initiative on Emergent Bilinguals Project (CUNY-NYSIEB) (e.g., García & Kleyn, 2016). In this chapter, Cummins highlights three other projects that are contemporary to CUNY-NYSIEB, but are less well-known. The first two of these are large-scale.

The first project is Roma Chumak-Horbatsch’s (2012) five-year project at Ryerson University in Toronto involving preschool and primary grades. Called Linguistically Appropriate Practice (LAP), it had a dual focus: to foster a love of literacy (in students’ home languages and in English and French, the official languages) and to involve family and community members as much as possible. The teachers talked to children about books and newspapers in English, French, and their languages (describing features such as authors, publishers, components, advertisements), asking students to provide home language translations for words/phrases in books during storytime. They led field trips with parents and family/community members to the public library so they could discover that there were books there in their languages, and created multilingual newspapers and bi/multilingual books with students and students’ families. At the conclusion of the project, Chumak-Horbatsch noticed that everyone—from teachers to students to parents—had taken on positive roles, habits, and attitudes:

I visited schools where home languages were seen, heard, used and included in the curriculum. … I saw children reach out to newcomers, help each other and learn from each other. I observed them using their home languages and listening to stories and narratives read in languages they did not understand. What they did understand, however, is that these are the languages of their classmates and friends—and that they matter. (Cumak-Horbatsch, 2019, p. 146)

The second project Cummins recommends looking into is the L’AltRoparlante project that took place in five diverse elementary and middle schools in Italy (Carbonara and Scibetta, 2022). In this project, everyone had to take time to learn together:

Initially, the project team worked with participating teachers to communicate research findings and instructional strategies associated with translanguaging. Monthly meetings were conducted to plan activities, share feedback on teaching initiatives, and discuss relevant readings regarding translanguaging. The researchers then guided teachers in the collection of information about the linguistic repertoires of students and their families as a way of increasing teachers’ awareness of how students used their languages in different contexts, students’ attitudes towards their multilingual repertoires, and potential assumptions or perceptions students or family members might have regarding the legitimacy of different languages in the context of the school, which the teachers labeled ‘language regimes’. (Cummins, 2021, p. 340)

Many of the activities implemented in L’AltRoparlante were inspired by the CUNY-NYSIEB Project, notably designing lesson plans around a multilingual product (Celic & Seltzer, 2013). [Blogger’s note: I have a lot more to say about the importance of multilingual, multimodal final products and why they are so ESSENTIAL in compulsory education in the societally dominant language. These projects convey the message that there are literacies in the world besides print-based literacies in the dominant societal language (so strongly favored at school) and linguistically marginalized students may be better at these other literacies.]

With older students, teachers were also able to discuss language rights and social inequalities, and in the end, outcomes documented were increased metalinguistic awareness, academic engagement, and more positive attitudes towards all kinds of multilingualism, in one’s background as well as others. For example, native Italian-speaking students also began to reclaim regional dialects as part of their identity. Cummins explains that L’AltRoparlante was “challenging societal power relations that stigmatise community talents and identities,” and it succeeded because teachers and students—both dominant language speakers and multilingual speakers—were able “to re-imagine their roles and identities” (p. 342).

The last example Cummins gives is simply the case of one veteran early childhood educator, Sylvie, who worked with diverse children and families in a low socioeconomic area in northeast France. She was featured in a study by University of Strasbourg researchers Mary and Young (2021). Sylvie stated that “to make headway, you have to go against the flow.” She was head teacher at her school and had been teaching for 35 years, 31 in multilingual contexts. Every two weeks for a school year, the researchers observed Sylvie, her teaching assistant, her pupils, and their families, and recorded interviews with them. Sylvie rejected the assimilationist norms of the French education system:

Unlike many of her colleagues over the years, Sylvie welcomed children’s languages into the classroom and encouraged her pupils to use their languages in discussing books that they had listened to or browsed through. She also invited parents to spend time in her classroom and to read books in their languages to the children. In one of her interviews with the researchers, Sylvie noted that some other teachers and the school inspector considered her classroom to be chaotic: these teachers ‘had said that it was chaos in my classroom, parents in the playground, parents in the corridors, in the classrooms, headscarves in the school, well, everything you can imagine’ (Mary & Young, 2021). (as cited in Cummins, 2021, p. 343)

Indeed, Sylvie often involved parents in her teaching, for example, reading a storybook to the children in French and having a parent read the Turkish version in parallel. Sylvie then tried to use Turkish herself, repeating what children said in Turkish and using simple Turkish phrases inserted into her French communication.

Cummins states that he calls Sylvie’s practice educator role definition, whereas García and colleagues call it translanguaging stance (e.g., García, Johnson, & Seltzer, 2017). In fact, I prefer “role definition,” because it suggests teachers (and students, and administrators, and parents) don’t just need to express a stance, but must hold themselves accountable for doing something. Any teacher can say they support students’ languages as resources for learning, but if you don’t learn them yourself, stumble over the words you don’t know, become a learner alongside students… that is different from Sylvie. (And with older students, who may laugh at you, you have to make clear what you’re trying to do, and encourage the whole class to be supportive of one another in learning basic phrases in everyone’s languages; it must be illustrated, explicitly and implicitly, why that is important in the class community.) Cummins concludes that these are “pedagogical initiatives that had evolved over many years as a result of choices that Sylvie had made regarding what it meant to educate the minoritised emerging bilingual children in her preschool classes” (p. 344).

4. What does Cummins mean by “Practice meets theory: Voices of Teachers and Students”?

In this section, Cummins explains why he finds the theoretical argument in translanguaging scholarship that “languages do not exist as a cognitive reality” or “the distinction between different modes of communication (text, image, gesture) or between different cultures should be questioned” incongruous with the classroom reality. We can tell this by examining the voices of teachers and students in two projects he was involved in, The Multiliteracies Project (Cummins & Early, 2011) and Songide’ewin: Aboriginal Narratives (Montero, Bice-Zaugg, Marsh, & Cummins, 2013).

The purpose of the The Multiliteracies Project in Toronto and Vancouver (2004–2006) was to honor the fact that there were non-school-based skills and literacies that multilingual students were capable of, in languages other than English and in media other than text—not to debate whether these languages were distinct from English and/or whether non-text modalities were distinct from text. (In fact they would never be fully separable, but that is not the point.) One ESL teacher in the project, Lisa Leoni, said:

My overarching goal as a teacher is to uncover all that is unknown to me about my studentslinguistically and culturally, and especially to understand the community they are part of (their parents, their friends, their faith) and the list goes on. So, when a student enters my class, I want to discover all that I can about that student as a learner and as a person. (p. 347)

She wanted to help students not only improve their English but own what they were saying in English, and she realized the importance of their first languages in achieving this goal:

Whether students are given the opportunity or not, it’s been clear to me that students learning an additional language use their first language to help them make sense not only of grammatical structures or concepts represented by the vocabulary but also of the world around them. … When Tomer entered my class last year, a lot of the work he produced was in Hebrew. Why? Because that is where his knowledge was encoded, and I wanted to make sure that Tomer was an active member and participant in my class. (p. 348)

Lisa did not care whether she could read Tomer’s work in Hebrew. She only cared that Tomer could maximize his opportunities to participate and learn, and eventually to translate those Hebrew understandings into English. Cummins highlights that “crosslinguistic transfer is likely to occur to some extent even when this process is not facilitated by the teacher, but when teachers encourage students to use their L1 as a resource for learning, the process becomes efficient rather than haphazard” (p. 348). Tomer confirmed this, saying about his bilingual book:

With Tom goes to Kentucky it was easier to begin it in Hebrew and then translate it to English and the other thing that made it easier was that I chose the topic. Because I love horses, when I’m writing about horses it makes me want to continue to do it and do it faster. I think using your first language is so helpful because when you don’t understand something after you’ve just come here it is like beginning as a baby. You don’t know English and you need to learn it all from the beginning; but if you already have it in another language then it is easier, you can translate it, and you can do it in your language too, then it is easier to understand the second language. (pp. 348-349)

Tomer’s classmate Kanta testified that being in an “English-only” ESL class made her progress in English faster, but her sentence grammar was poor because she could not use Urdu to make sense of how things were properly structured. She said her classmate, Madiha, who learned bilingually, saw “the differences between the two languages and her writing in English improved a lot more and better than mine did” (p. 349). Madiha said about their teacher Lisa Leoni: “she cares about our family and our country, not just Canada. Because she cares about us, that makes us want to do more work. My parents were really happy to see that I was writing in both Urdu and English; my mother was happy because she knows that not everyone has that chance.” At a TESL conference, Kanta also told educators that she felt humiliated when she first came to Canada because she was given some paper and crayons at school to express herself by drawing pictures like a small child—it was not expected that she might be able to express herself in her first language with the help of a peer or adult (p. 350).

The other project, Songide’ewin, took place at a high school in Hamilton, Ontario. It involved identity texts such as poetry and visual art by students in the Native Arts and Culture course at the school. Songide’ewin means “strength of the heart” in Ojibwe. The class brought together First Nations youth and non-Indigenous preservice teachers to learn about each other in a non-hierarchical manner, and was guided by Dr. Kristiina Montero at Wilfred Laurier University in collaboration with First Nations elders such as the artist Rene Meshake. Students worked to create visual and literary texts that communicated messages about Indigenous identity through paintings and poetry, with symbols such as the eagle, bear, turtle, wolf, drum, and eagle feather that connected them to the land, sacred teachings, and worldviews. These works were shown in three Ontario art galleries in May 2012 and May 2013.

In the Songide’ewin project, students also spoke of their languages and cultures, not necessarily in terms of cultural hybridity and blending like international elites, but in terms of the strength and pleasure that came with reclaiming lost cultural knowledge and practices. One student, Adam, who had grown up with his mother’s white family, said he had known he was First Nations but had never experienced any education about his people in the two previous high schools and three elementary schools he attended in Toronto: “Instruction in these schools was about Canada, not the people who were here first. By contrast, the Native Studies programme put Aboriginal people first” (p. 351). Adam’s classmate Cassandra stated:

The process helped me to develop whom I thought I was born to be. I was able to verbalize that if I am able to say “I know who I am,” then my kids will be able to do the same, as will their children, their children’s children, and so on and so forth. (pp. 351-352)

When asked if any of her previous educational experiences had connected with her life and identity, she emphatically responded, “Never—never, ever, ever, ever” (p. 352) and “Since this project I have written and shared many pieces of poetry. … Participating in this project was like hearing a collective voice telling me: ‘We are proud of you. We care about you. You have a future'” (p. 353). Another telling message for educators is Cassandra’s statement: “Take away identity and what do you have? If you have a student that doesn’t know who they are, do you think they care about what goes on in the classroom?” (p. 353).

5. Conclusion: Why translanguaging or bi/multilingual practices are an essential part of transformative pedagogy, but not everything

Cummins concludes that translanguaging and other bi/multilingual practices can be powerful, but in the end, it is not these pratices but the social effects—the shaping of social relations to dismantle inequalities, forge trust, and build pride in a community—that lead to social transformation. Equally important to realize is that it is possible to have translingual and bi/multilingual pedagogy without these social effects, maintaining whatever inequalities, mistrust, and insecurities exist. It all depends on participants’ values and intentions. He writes:

In order to reverse underachievement among minoritised students, teachers need to implement a range of instructional approaches that scaffold meaning, reinforce knowledge of academic language across the curriculum, promote sustained literacy engagement, connect with students’ lives, and affirm identities. A danger in the current academic discourse that centers on translanguaging is that this component gets foregrounded and other components, equally significant in reversing underachievement, fade into the background. … Likewise, teachers may be puzzled when they are informed that the languages they teach exist in the social realm but have no reality within the individual’s cognitive apparatus or architecture. Teachers spend long hours in the classroom working hard to enable students to incorporate these languages into their cognitive apparatus. … Just ask anybody who has struggled to learn a language [including reclaiming an indigenous/immigrant language] whether this process has cognitive reality, and the response will be 100% affirmative. (p. 354-355)

Following this chapter, Cummins provides 11 pages of TRANSFORMATIVE translingual and bi/multilingual projects, defined as “teachers, students, families/communities, and often whole schools (or even a network of schools) working in partnership to combine social movements with genuine concern for learning in multiple languages and multiple forms of literacy, both dominant and minoritized.” Here, I summarize nine of these projects, which do not repeat what was previously said in the chapter and can be transferable to a wide range of other settings. Interventions 1 to 4 come from places where diverse students tend to immigrate (e.g., Canada, European Union). Interventions 5 and 6 are pretty universal (i.e., can work anywhere). Interventions 7 and 8 come from places where there is immense ethnic, regional, and indigenous diversity (e.g., India, Latin America). Intervention 9 describes how to partner with immigrant students and their families in a relatively culturally homogeneous context (e.g., Japan). Don’t leave yet… take a look! These illustrate Cummins’ motto, Actuality Implies Possibility (p. 310)—because it was done before, it means it is possible.

  • Teaching the school language in a context of diversity. The most common reason teachers say bi/multilingual and translingual pedagogies are not possible in their classes is that their classes are very linguistically diverse and they do not speak their students’ languages. The European Centre for Modern Languages put out a resource called Teaching the School Language in a Context of Diversity to address exactly this situation. For a resource on how to do so in the age of COVID-19, check out the Treasure Chest of Resources for Learners, Parents, and Teachers in Times of COVID-19.
  • Me Mapping. This project from the University of Toronto had students create videos in many languages about their language repertoires, important milestones in their lives, their experiences at school, and their homes and aspirations for the future. It fulfilled the important task of having final products that were not text-based or monolingual in the dominant societal language, showcasing students’ skills and abilities in alternative language and literacy practices.
  • Involving the WHOLE school staff in becoming language friendly. Language Friendly School is a website that shows you how to develop a language plan involving all school members: students, teachers, and staff. It can be adapted to the school’s particular needs and aims.
  • Holistically assessing newcomer students’ needs. A project called Education of International Newly Arrived Migrant Pupils developed guidelines to help primary and secondary schools work with newly-arrived students: how to welcome, observe, assess language development, come up with differentiated learning plans, and foster intercultural communication.
  • Fostering access and engagement with print literacy in both home and school languages, especially for socioeconomically disadvantaged students. This 14-minute video shows how a school in Geneva, Switzerland, which served a diverse student population, brought bright orange backpacks for children in early primary school to let students carry books in French and their home languages to read with parents. Parents helped create home language versions of the books by translating and pasting the home language text below the French text. Cummins writes: “Projects such as this are exactly what the research on print access and literacy engagement (see Chapter 6) suggests should be happening in all schools serving multilingual and socially disadvantaged children” (p. 362).
  • Pedagogical translanguaging. A school in the Netherlands implemented the original Welsh-English bilingual approach to pedagogical translanguaging (Williams, 2000), which means input and output flows in different languages when students do research, take notes, write essays, or give presentations in order to support access to societally dominant languages as well as maintain and develop literacy skills in students’ heritage languages. Students carry out research in one language and present findings in another, or use Google translate in ways that foster language acquisition (Martin & McCracken, 2018).
  • Harnessing the power of multilingualism in Indigenous/Tribal contexts. In highly diverse societies like India, English and the dominant languages (e.g., Punjabi, Hindi) can come to erase the many indigenous and tribal languages. Therefore, during his doctoral dissertation at the University of Toronto, Bapujee Biswabandan (e.g., Biswabandan, 2020) worked collaboratively with teachers, parents, community members and an NGO in an Indian village to publish a multilingual children’s storybook with “40 parents, many of whom would be considered ‘non-literate’ by conventional standards.” This project shows that there is no excuse saying “It is a good idea, but parents in my community would not be capable of this.” [Side note: A community organization in Senegal called LILIEMA showed that adults who had failed school could learn to read and write bi/multilingually and translingually for important daily purposes in community-based schools that taught them to spell however they wanted in the Latin alphabet, mixing languages freely to communicate just like they did in everyday life. I’ve blogged about LILIEMA throughout this post and at the end of this other post.]
  • Helping people realize that Indigenous languages in Latin America are as important in education as Spanish and English. At the University of Oaxaca, Mexico, Mario E. López-Gopar (2016) used multilingual identity texts with Indigenous teacher education candidates to elevate Indigenous languages to the same status as Spanish and English: “The liberation of voice that emerged in the resulting interpersonal spaces resulted in languages, previously dormant and fearful, ‘flying across the room'” (p. 364). The teachers not only challenged the hegemony of Spanish and English, but discourses of native speakerism, and they took on a lingua franca attitude and norms with regard to communication in English. You can buy López-Gopar’s e-textbook Decolonizing Primary English Language Teaching (2016) for $15USD on Amazon. A reviewer wrote: “López-Gopar gives both a voice and a face to those who are usually silenced in ELT, making this book a highly engaging and thought-provoking must-read for all those involved in the field of English language teaching.”
  • Using bi/multilingualism as a resource at school, in a largely homogeneous society, to improve immigrant students’ learning outcomes. In Japan, Junko Majima and Chiho Sakurai (2021), whose article appears in this book, worked for more than a decade with teachers in a primary school in Osaka to teach Chinese-speaking students at the school. They had “pull-out” classes and bilingual instruction by Chinese-speaking teachers, who presumably used pedagogical translanguaging in literacy activities (see Netherlands example above; Williams, 2000) and pedagogical code-switching in their classroom talk and explanations (Faltis, 1989; Jacobson, 1981). Cummins writes: “The linguistic ecology of the school was transformed as a result of the display of multilingual signs and posters, bilingual presentations at graduation ceremonies, and explicit affirmation of students’ bilingualism by the teachers. … Longitudinal analysis of quantitative data showed that students who had developed Chinese reading skills in addition to conversational and listening skills performed significantly better in Japanese reading than those who had attained conversational and/or listening Chinese skills but not literate Chinese skills” (p. 363). This shows that although immigration will naturally lead to conversational skills in the new country’s language, which may even become students’ dominant language, monolingual teaching will lead students to fall behind in reading/writing in both home and school languages (not enough bi/multilingual help to get good at reading/writing in the dominant language, and lack of formal education in the home language), with a good example from the U.S. in the middle of this other post. Therefore, schools should intentionally and carefully scaffold literacy skills across both languages.

To sum up, Cummins highlights that linguistically and culturally diverse schools are transformative (i.e., they transform parts of society) when they:

  • Engage in whole school efforts and in
  • Equal partnership with families/communities that sees them not as a separate community, but part of the school community, to
  • Promote social justice hand-in-hand with effective learning that integrates home, community, and school funds of knowledge (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992) in the sincere belief that they are naturally integrable and not at all incommensurable.

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Published by annamend

Assistant Professor in the Department of Linguistics, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

2 thoughts on “Translanguaging and transformative pedagogy (Part 2): Jim Cummins writes about “Teachers as knowledge generators”

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