Validating Language Practices in the Multilingual Classroom

Building From Strengths: Centering Multilingual Learners’ Cultures and Language Practices edLeader Panel recording screenshot

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Multilingual students come to the classroom with unique cultural experiences and language practices. When these elements are recognized and built into instruction, learners see that their cultural and linguistic uniqueness is valued, relevant, and crucial to how and what they learn.

In the edLeader Panel “Building From Strengths: Centering Multilingual Learners’ Cultures and Language Practices,” Dr. Luz Yadira Herrera, author and Assistant Professor of Bilingual Education at California State University Channel Islands, highlighted approaches that support multilingual learners’ linguistic repertoires, enabling them to make meaning and connections in the classroom.

Crucial Foundations

At the heart of effective, strengths-based teaching in multilingual classrooms are frameworks and practices that focus instruction on identities, literacies, and languages. Once embraced, they drive linguistically and culturally sustaining pedagogies.

Critical bilingual literacies (CBL) are four principles that help teachers center on the dynamic multilingualism in students’ worlds and school communities. The principles also promote social justice through efforts to remove linguistic barriers in schools. CBL principles urge educators to:

  1. Commit to ongoing self-reflection on their language ideologies and how they are reflected in their teaching practices.
  2. Unlearn racialized language hierarchies that prevent them from honoring students’ language practices and varieties. Teachers can begin this practice by looking at how they perceive their language; do they, for example, view the Spanish they speak as inferior?
  3. Examine their teaching practices and the texts they use through a lens of language, literacy, and power to consider whose stories are centered on the classroom. Are all students’ identities and language practices presented?
  4. Celebrate students’ dynamic language practices, create spaces to welcome their whole selves, and create opportunities for children to share their language practices. For example, certain words have different meanings and language varieties; asking students to share those meanings validates their language practices.

Translanguaging is a bilingual practice (which emerges from the fourth CBL principle). It is the way bilingual and multilingual individuals use language. It can also be viewed as a language pedagogy requiring lesson plans and spaces to encourage learners to use all their linguistic repertoires. 

The Three Ts: An Instructional Framework

The three Ts is a framework grounded in CBL. Developed by Dr. Herrera and educator, author, and researcher Dr. Carla Espana, it is an approach to teaching and learning in a multilingual context across grade levels. The “Ts” are:

  1. Temos: The planning of culturally and linguistically sustaining topics for students.
  2. Textos: Multimodal texts adopted in lesson plans that communicate solidarity with students, affirming their ways of being and knowing with the intentional selection of texts to ensure they reflect students’ experiences and language practices.
  3. Translanguaging (as described earlier): Creating intentional translanguaging spaces.

A lesson within this framework has three parts (see the edLeader Panel recording for implementation examples):

  1. Set up and introduction: The introduction might ask learners to explore the author and the illustrator, sections highlighting themes learners should focus on, or connect to units students have studied (literacy, for example).
  2. Reading and community: Strategically select text passages that students read together in communities. For example, the focus might be on specific lines in the text that feature students’ dynamic language (translanguaging).
  3. Discussion and response: Teachers present opportunities for learners to make meaning of identity, language, relationships between characters, themes, illustrations, etc. They encourage students to discuss their wants, connecting text elements to their linguistic and cultural experiences. Teachers can also promote artistic responses to the text elements; learners might write narratives or poetry drawing on the text, expressing themselves using their linguistic repertoire.

The three Ts, in addition to welcoming learners to use their languages in the classroom community, create compelling opportunities for multilingual learners to engage with the text thoroughly.

The combination of practices and principles bolsters multilingual instruction, establishes a welcoming and inclusive environment that invites multiple linguistic repertoires, and values all students’ cultural and language experiences.


Learn more about this edWeb broadcast, Building From Strengths: Centering Multilingual Learners’ Cultures and Language Practices, sponsored by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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Article by Michele Israel, based on this edLeader Panel

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