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The Translanguaging Classroom

The Translanguaging Classroom: Leveraging Student Bilingualism for Learning

Ofelia GarcĂ­a, Susana Ibarra Johnson, Kate Seltzer
ISBN: 978-1-934000-19-9
Paperback: 224 pages
Published: August, 2016

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Rachel K. Gilbert

Jeffco Public Schools

While the concept of translanguaging is a relatively new term in the world of bilingualism and bilingual education, the ideas in the book are not necessarily new. In conversations, the concept of translanguaging has always felt “forced” for me. Translanguaging could be described as “the day-to-day practices [that] provided multiple opportunities for students to have ongoing access to each other's linguistic, cultural, and cognitive resources, and these practices had consequences that extended beyond the classroom walls” (Gutiérrez et al., 1999). Yet this was a definition used by Gutierrez in the 1990s to describe hybridity and the Third Space. One thing this book does exceptionally well is give names to concepts that have been floating out there as informal or less-known techniques and put them into a functional framework. After reading this book, I was able to adopt new terms to describe the language learning process and was also able to start framing conversations with a new pedagogical and equitable approach for teachers. In my role as a dual language instructional coach, I have already started to see shifts in teacher beliefs about student strengths and instructional approaches. This book is an empowering resource and I strongly recommend that anyone who works with multilingual students read it...More

Meral Kaya

Brooklyn College, City University of New York (CUNY)

The Journal of Multilingual Education Research (JMER) compiled a collection of articles celebrating the scholarly contributions of Dr. Ofelia García, who retired from Academia in May 2019.  Authors from local, national, and international settings came together to give tribute to her vast and distinguished scholarship, her caring mentoring, and her affable and charismatic persona in Volume 9 (2019) The Power of Voice: Contributions of Ofelia García to Language Education.

"Considering how diverse and global our world has become, we need more than ever a stance that will broaden our understanding of bilingualism and create space for bilingual learning and instruction. It is a challenge to address the needs of students who speak languages other than English. It is more challenging to help teachers understand and envision the ways we can reach bilingual students and make a difference in their success through valuing, embracing, and utilizing their language capabilities and skills, culture, home language,and their complex language practices. In a moment where immigration policies are changing, and while inequality continues to exist in the education system, teachers need to be effectively equipped to challenge established ideas and traditional models about how to teach to bilingual students and shift their understanding to productively accommodate and nurture students’ learning and help them achieve academic success..." Click here for full book review

Kathryn I. Henderson

The University of Texas at San Antonio

The last ten years has seen an increase in research questioning the strict separation of language in bilingual educational settings. One vein of inquiry has been inspired by the concept of translanguaging defined broadly in the scholarly work by Ofelia García (author 1) as the language and meaning-making practices of bilinguals. Translanguaging also refers to the way people think about and act upon these diverse language practices in positive ways, particularly non-standard language performances that have been traditionally marginalized. Subsequently, additional research has continued to challenge and extend the definition of translanguaging including its theoretical application in classroom practice. Lacking up to this point has been a book for educators detailing a pedagogical framework for its implementation. The Translanguaging Classroom: Leveraging Student Bilingualism for Learning fills this gap by providing an innovative resource for teachers. This review provides a summary of the book and its key points, followed by an analysis of its strengths with suggestions for how teachers and teacher educators should use it. The final part of the review considers issues and questions raised by the authors in relation to future directions in translanguaging pedagogical applications...More

Kathy Escamilla

I start this review with a hearty “congratulations” to the authors of this text.

Ofelia García has always been at the cutting edge of theory generation in our field. Her work on developing translanguaging theory is arguably the most original to come along in a generation. Translanguaging is also one of the most misunderstood, incorrectly interpreted, and misapplied theories. For both these reasons, the publication of this book is not only a good idea; it is imperative in furthering the important work of understanding and applying translanguaging. This book makes a unique and important contribution to the field both for researchers and practitioners.

Since its inception, questions around the concept and practices of translanguaging have abounded. What exactly is translanguaging? Is it a fancy word for code-switching? Is it a nice theory with few practical applications? Can teachers teach translanguaging? Do translanguaging principles only apply in bilingual program contexts? Is translanguaging one more thing to be scheduled into an already overcrowded school day? These are but a few of the varied questions that have been posed about this body of work, and this book does an excellent job of addressing many of these queries and concerns.

In reader friendly terms, the authors begin by providing a definition of a translanguaging classroom that few could disagree with: “A translanguaging classroom is any classroom in which students may deploy their full linguistic repertoires, and not just the particular language(s) that are officially used for instructional purposes in that space” (p. 1). They then move beyond theory into application in many different educational contexts, including dual language, ESL, English-medium, and elementary and secondary school contexts. Students in these situations are all developing bilingualism and biliteracy. Some of them have been doing so since birth, while others are new arrivals (some with strong backgrounds and formal education in a non-English language and some with no formal education in any language) and just beginning the journey toward bilingualism and biliteracy.

These varied educational contexts with highly diverse student bodies are used in the book to illuminate the concepts of translanguaging. They include a 4th-grade Spanish–English dual language classroom in New Mexico; an 11th-grade social studies classroom in New York, where English is the official instructional language in the classroom even though the students speak a variety of languages; and a middle-school math and science classroom in Los Angeles, with a push-in ESL teacher for students from many different linguistic and educational backgrounds.

Rather than using these contexts to narrowly describe teaching strategies or techniques to embrace translanguaging, the authors clearly explain that translanguaging is not a set of strategies and that it needs to be understood on two different levels—sociolinguistic and pedagogical. They quote Flores and Schissel (2014) who state,

From a sociolinguistic perspective it describes the fluid language practices of bilingual communities. From a pedagogical perspective it describes a pedagogical approach whereby teachers build bridges from these language practices and the language practices desired in formal school settings. (pp. 461–462)

Too often, the fields of bilingual/dual language/ESL education have been criticized as paying too much attention to instructional minutes and activities that are appropriated to the teaching of various languages and too little attention to the quality of instruction and pedagogy. The fields have been criticized further for believing that, in order to develop bilingualism/biliteracy, languages must be strictly separated for instruction in bilingual settings and should not be used for instruction in English-medium classrooms. This book challenges these dominant paradigms and clearly demonstrates how translanguaging practices enhance not only the learning of language but also the learning of content.

The book clearly states the purposes for translanguaging and then applies them in the various classroom contexts described previously. By using the classroom situations as the vehicles for applying the translanguaging purposes, the book becomes concrete and real for teachers and other educators who wish to adopt and utilize its pedagogy. The authors state, “The translanguaging pedagogy we put forward in this book is purposeful and strategic” (p. 7). They focus on four primary purposes for translanguaging that work together toward the larger purpose of advancing social justice:

  1. Supporting students as they engage with and comprehend complex content and text
  2. Providing opportunities for students to develop linguistic practices for academic contexts
  3. Making space for students’ bilingualism and ways of knowing;
  4. Supporting students’ bilingual identities and socioemotional development. (p. 7)

Most bilingual/dual language and English-medium programs seek to take on topics and create practices that promote social justice; sadly few know how to do this. This book provides important information to help teachers use translanguaging pedagogy to teach for access, equity, and social justice. Further, teachers frequently decry the lack of support in all school programs for addressing and supporting the socioemotional needs of their students. This is particularly true for educators who are teaching emerging bilingual students, no matter what the school program is. That this book includes socioemotional development and support as part of its pedagogy is another strength.

Central to the translanguaging pedagogy is having teachers learn to observe and use the translanguaging corriente, which the authors define as the flow of students’ bilingual practices. This understanding again illustrates that the pedagogy is more than content, activities, and techniques; it must include who the students are and the strengths they bring to the learning environment. Lest the book be criticized as too general, the translanguaging pedagogy is also comprehensive throughout the book, as demonstrated by and discussed in detail through its chapters on instruction, assessment, and standards.

Finally, and as evidence of its comprehensive nature, the book also discusses the dispositions that teachers and schools need to successfully enact a translanguaging pedagogy. These dispositions include the stance design, and shifts. These topics alone make the book worth buying, discussing, and using in various professional development situations.

This book will be useful for teacher education classes, professional learning communities in schools, and school districts implementing a variety of instructional programs for emerging bilingual students. It will appeal to teachers, professional developers, and researchers of second language learners in many contexts. The book will also be useful in graduate programs looking at theories of bilingualism and biliteracy development, and I will certainly require it in my own courses. I think this book will be read and re-read and will serve as the impetus for a great deal of other work over the next decade. 

Esperanza De La Vega, Associate Professor

Portland State University

We have found Caslon's books to be a perfect fit for the Bilingual Teacher Pathway Program, which is a two-year teacher preparation program for bilingual educational assistants who want to become teachers.  Recently, I looked at your guiding principles that made me feel like I had found a home!  Thank you for publishing such awesome books! Espie