Asset-Based Pedagogy: Relevant, Responsive, and Linguistic
With over five million emergent bilingual students in classrooms across the country, it’s more relevant than ever that pedagogy, curricula, and classroom environments reflect the diversity of students.
During the edWebinar, “The Next Level of Asset-Based Pedagogy: Relevant, Responsive, and Linguistic,” Maya Goodall, Senior Director of Emergent Bilingual Curriculum at Lexia Learning, showed how educators can move from being culturally responsive to culturally sustaining in the classroom by leveraging learners’ diversity as an asset, not a deficit, in the context of English-language learning.
Goodall breaks down the learning journey into two camps. Educators, she explains, tend to look at students’ English-language learning curve in one of two ways: as an asset-based journey or a deficit-based journey. An asset-based journey builds on the language knowledge students already have. Also known as culturally relevant pedagogy or funds of knowledge, asset-based pedagogy views culture, literacies, and language differences of historically marginalized students as an added benefit to the classroom.
When educators ask questions such as, “I wonder what my students already know that I don’t know. How can I help them add to their knowledge and build on what they’ve been previously exposed to,” they position the learner as someone who brings value to the classroom. Accordingly, students are encouraged to connect to their identities and will engage with learning on a deeper level.
The goal of culturally sustaining pedagogy is to provide access to dominant practices while sustaining and honoring heritage practices. This means educators should consider heritage language as an asset. Students who come in already speaking another language will have a phonemic awareness and extensive vocabulary that is transferable to English-language learning.
Though they will need explicit instruction in order to learn English grammatical structure, educators who use a culturally sustaining approach know that previous language skills can be leveraged as a metacognitive opportunity. For example, practicing speaking in the classroom can help students get real-time feedback and analyze how building phrases in English is different from their heritage language.
In order to move towards a culturally sustaining education practice, the work begins with the teacher. The first step is to reflect on one’s own cultural lens by asking, “How has my own culture, identity, and knowledge impacted my journey, and how might my experience influence my students?”
Acknowledging where, as an educator, you have blind spots due to privilege and also areas where you fall outside of the “norm,” is an important process in order to become aware of your own identity and how it might influence students in both positive and negative ways. An educator’s identity can become a powerful tool of connection in the classroom.
The second thing to do is recognize that there is bias built into the English-language learning system. The U.S. educational system has not always been friendly to bilingual students, traditionally seeing the English-language learning process as an intervention, and in the worst cases, as a barrier to learning. Now, educators must disrupt the system in order to center bilingualism as an asset and set full fluency in more than one language as a positive goal for students.
Next, educators must draw on students’ cultures to improve instruction. It is important to reject lessons that teach there is a “better” culture or a “right” way of being. Small tweaks, like accepting different accents or allowing students to speak with vocabulary that is authentic to who they are, honor their identity. Making space for students to speak about their own life experiences also helps them engage with the content and feel as if they are being seen and acknowledged.
Building upon that principle, educators can also improve their efficacy by bringing real-world experiences to the classroom and challenging students to solve real-world problems. By listening to different perspectives from other students about how to solve a problem, students will need to consider points of view that may differ from their own. Encouraging speaking opportunities, group discussion, and peer-to-peer learning are all tactics that can help connect learners to one another, as well as to the content.
Finally, it’s important to model high expectations for all students. Getting away from a deficit model and moving towards an asset-based model shows students that they are enriching their cultural competence by learning another language and expanding their horizons. High expectations show students that they are capable of learning, respecting everyone’s differences, and broadening their perspectives.
Moving towards an asset-based mentality also helps engage parents at home. Understanding that some parents may not come to parent-teacher conferences because they work long hours, or that they can’t help with homework because they don’t speak English, helps teachers to be creative about how to connect families to their children’s learning at school.
Educators can also make an extra effort to communicate in ways that are culturally responsive, such as using Google Translate when sending an email to a household in which English is not well understood. Small interventions like this make a big difference.
Honoring diversity is equally as important when screening the tools we use to teach English. It is the role of an educator to be sure that their preferred English-language learning platform does not punish students for differences, such as accents, but rather recognizes and lifts up diverse identities.
The edWebinar closed out with a demonstration of Lexia® English Language Development, which is a tool that was designed using a culturally sustaining approach to identity and heritage culture. Characters in the learning platform also have different accents and thus represent a wide variety of cultures. This helps students both broaden their perspectives and improve their comprehension and should be considered when screening English-language learning tools in any classroom utilizing a culturally sustaining approach.
A culturally sustaining, asset-based approach to English-language learning is an important strategy for any educator who has emergent bilingual students in their classroom. Not only will this approach improve learning outcomes, but it will also help students feel more connected, seen, and respected in their journeys toward full bilingual fluency.
Learn more about this edWeb broadcast, “The Next Level of Asset-Based Pedagogy: Relevant, Responsive, and Linguistic,” sponsored by Lexia Learning.
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Blog post by Laura Smulian, based on this edWebinar