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Multimodal Explorations in Language, Identity, Culture Inform Development of Bilingual Teachers

Have you seen the JTE Insider blog managed by the Journal of Teacher Education (JTE) editorial team? Check out the following interview with authors of a recent article. This blog is available to the public, and AACTE members have free access to the articles themselves in the full JTE archives online – just log in with your AACTE profile here.

This interview features insights from the article “Preparing Bilingual Teachers: Mediating Belonging With Multimodal Explorations in Language, Identity, and Culture” written by Patricia Martinez-Álvarez, Isabel Cuevas, and María Torres-Guzmán. The article, which appears in the March/April issue of JTE, is summarized in the following abstract:

This study draws upon a survey of writing conceptions and cultural dispositions data, as well as multimodal compositions allowing bilingual teacher candidates to recursively explore and deepen the relationships between language, identity, and culture in learning. We found that teacher candidates did rethink the relationships through the multimodal tool. Moreover, their epistemic writing conceptions were correlated with high intercultural dispositions and multimodal complexity. The multimodal composition allowed candidates to follow individually distinct processes, but they all made more references to their imagined teaching practice at the end of the learning experience. These references were the result of, and resulted in, a deeper reflection of the relationships. Our results have implications for preparing teachers to confront the reality of diverse classrooms through more flexible pedagogical practices that allow for diverse modes of meaning making, such as the multimodal composition in this study.

The following text is excerpted from the JTE Insider interview with the study’s authors; click here to read the full interview.

Q: What motivated you to pursue this particular research topic?

Isabel: The work (and collaboration) arises from the confluence of interests and motives. We share an interdisciplinary interest in understanding the processes that contribute to forming reflective professors that work for social justice that favors an inclusive education, without exclusions, considering and valuing the cultural and linguistic identity of the members of classroom communities.

María: The anthropological thinking and ethnographic tools were organized as a survey of the use of the theory and methods in the bilingual classroom and their documentation in the literature. The first four sessions examined the historical development of culture in the classroom – the intention was to examine how the literature had treated the relationship – from the conceptualization of culture as associated with language (i.e., culture of poverty, one nation, one language, etc.) to its deconstruction and reconstruction as more fluid and associated with identity construction as agentic, shaping and being shaped by language and culture. By the fifth class, teacher candidates had the conceptual tools to critique and nuance their definitions and to be repositioned to redefine themselves within the context of the course and as bilingual teachers.

While the course had evolved, the object of the main assignments (the family meal, the reflections about culture, the classroom observation, and the final presentation) had remained. The focus was on examining self as bilingual teachers who came to the teacher education program with rich histories, had committed themselves to a future in the field, and would have to face ongoing redefinitions associated with who they were and who the children they taught were. What had evolved were the technological tools at the teacher candidates’ disposal. In the iteration of the course we focused on, the family meal was transformed with the use of Comic Life, the reflection of culture was constructed multimodally through Inspiration, and students were encouraged to use instructional videos from YouTube and other sources. From a Vygotskian perspective, the change in tools itself could transform the ways in which the learner engaged in the activity of thinking about language, culture, and learning and the focus on the conceptualizations of writing was a window into doing so.

Patricia: The interest in integrating technology was twofold. On one hand, we felt that our teacher candidates had to be prepared for the 21st-century classroom by continuing to develop their technological literacy, not just by learning about different technological tools, but by learning to use these as they actually created multimodal products that involved negotiating meaning with the actual possibilities of the programs. We perceived the dynamism that technology allows for as an asset for a fluid exploration of the constructs. This was particularly significant in explorations of language, identity, and culture as technology allows for integration of multiple semiotic resources simultaneously. Likewise, we felt teachers would be more compelled to use some of these technologies in their future practice if they themselves realized their potential for bridging previously separated spaces.

Q: What were some difficulties you encountered with the research?

María: We encountered multiple difficulties, which we believe is a normal part of the process of collaborative writing, particularly when coming from different theoretical traditions. There were two issues that were salient and significant that we wanted to share with others because of their relevance beyond our particular article: (1) the marriage between qualitative and quantitative methods and (2) connection of two theoretical frameworks that stemmed from different traditions – cultural historical activity theory (CHAT) and writing conception theory. CHAT is Vygotskian based, and the writing theories were cognitively based.

We could see the writing tradition as subsumed to CHAT, as the latter focused on systems of activity, but we also had the topic and focus of the class, that is, culture as identity construction. What made us think we could bring all of this together? The theories were coming into conflict, and before we were comfortable with a written text, we had to construct a link that was reasonable and expanded both traditions.

Since the tradition of conceptions of writing was cognitively based, it was not until we reconstructed it as a psychological tool with an ontological-historical pathway, in the Vygotskian tradition, that we could begin to see the links between the two and construct their complementarity. While lesser in number, there were candidates who saw writing as a way of reporting information; they report on the collective narratives that they encountered and that they might or might not consider in storying their own identities. This use of writing was called reproductive writing conceptions. The majority of the teacher candidates in the course, however, were what the literature called epistemic writers. They treated the tool of writing as an instrument through which they expressed themselves and explored their evolving thinking. There was more than one activity at work: writing and thinking; they were acting as individuals in the social construction of selves within the role of bilingual teachers, and they were considering the historical and alternative ways of understanding the role of multiple languages and cultures in teaching/learning. In other words, the system of writing activity was not considered as an isolated activity; it was considered in relation to systems of thinking about the relationship of culture, language, and learning and in relation to thinking about and creating their identities as teachers.

The qualitative/quantitative marriage was another related difficulty. Cognitive traditions lean toward categorizing and look for numerical tendencies, whereas qualitative traditions look for process, patterns of interaction, and the role these play in creative resolutions or transformations. We needed to resolve how we connected the associated methods in a mixed method design so as to go beyond eclecticism.

First, we consulted Creswell on mixed methods and tried to reconstruct our process in order to name and describe it accurately. We decided, for example, that while our process was truly iterative, going back and forth to think about what we were doing, at each step we were connecting to the different aspects of the theory, we were interpreting the meaning of the texts, and we were contributing to our interpretations of the significance of our work. In other words, it was the systems of thinking, research, and writing in interaction. We used the quantitative method to define baseline information about the participants and to develop the criteria for selecting the multimodal composition cases we would use for the qualitative analysis. This process gave coherence to the research because we realized that with only one method we would not nuance the stories of the candidates. Thus, we summarized what we were doing as seeking to understand, through qualitative methods, how the multimodal tool mediated their uptake of the discourses the teacher candidates brought into the learning experience and those they encountered as part of the course to rethink the role of language, identity, and culture in relation to the learning needs of the children, to broader societal needs, and, ultimately, to their own identity construction and negotiating of belonging as bilingual teachers.

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