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Two girls participate in a writing exercise

Young Latinas infuse culture, tradition, and family into their writing

“My students and their families have important stories to share,” says Assistant Professor of Language and Literacy Tracey Flores, “and writing has the power to build community and solidarity.”

That’s why Flores began an afterschool bilingual family writing workshop while she was a second-grade teacher in Arizona. In the workshops, students met in her classroom for 12 weeks to draw, write, and tell stories from their lives.

Tracey Flores works on writing with the students

“At the workshops, I modeled my own writing, we read mentor texts for inspiration, and used writing, drawing, and oral storytelling as tools to share ourselves and connect with one another,” says Flores. “Each week parents sat alongside their children at Con Mi Madre—each penning their own personal stories and working together throughout the entire writing process. In the classroom, students wrote more, began to integrate some of the strategies we practiced at workshops and, for the first time, many infused Spanish into their personal writing.”

Flores continues this work at the University of Texas at Austin. In fact, this summer, young Latinas and their families from across the Austin area participated in a Somos Escritoras writing camp on campus.

The work of infusing the students’ and their families’ culture, traditions, and language into their writing is important, says Flores, because many of the Mexican and Mexican American students in her Arizona classrooms were viewed as deficient and placed in English Language Development classrooms in which they received a different curriculum, a restrictive language and literacy curriculum, than that of their English-speaking peers.

Photo of Fabiola

Fabiola

“As I worked within and against these oppressive and racist structures, I saw how these mandates were silencing and controlling the voices of my students,” says Flores.

Flores says that she’s learned from the girls in this summer’s Somos Escritoras performative space “more about the concerns that are most important in the girls’ lives and the ways that they are defining themselves and naming themselves, through writing, theater, art and other performative acts. This work will inform future workshops for girls and will inform the ways that I plan and facilitate my Language Arts and Community Literacies courses for pre-service teachers.”

Photo of Genevieve

Genevieve

Says Fabiola, a 12-year-old girl who participated in the camp, “I wanted to find a place to fit in. I write a lot of poems in my free time, but I was afraid to share them. I feel more confident in myself as a Chicana and was able to share my stories with everyone. I have been sharing what I do in camp with my family, and they are really proud of me and that makes me proud of myself.”

Genevieve, a 7th grader, appreciated the sense of community the camp provided. “It’s been really nice to have a group that’s so open. I didn’t really get to have that in other places. This place makes me feel comfortable. We are each unique, but we have a lot in common. We were able to talk about both the discrimination we face and our triumph as Latinas. I really like hearing about others’ experiences and relating them to mine.”

Nathaly S. Batista-Morales is a doctoral student who works with Flores. She says that participating in Somos Escritoras fit into her education in the field of Bilingual and Bicultural Education because it offered her a model to see research in a new light. She says, “It showed me how to build relationships in the community, how to conduct research with the girls, and how to design opportunities that benefit my community now rather than later. Additionally, it fit well with my research focus on critical literacy, since the core of the program was reading and writing to speak back to issues of injustice, language, ethnic identity, and sexual orientation as we decentered notions of what young Latina women should look and be like.”

Says Flores, “The end goal is to engage my pre-service teachers in considering the practices of Latina girls and the work of spaces like Somos Escritoras, to privilege marginalized voices specifically, and Latina girls particularly, in their own future classrooms.”

Tracey Flores is an assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction within the College of Education at the University of Texas at Austin.

Tracey Flores with workshop participants and graduate students

Jim Hoffman working with students in Mozambique

An interview with James Hoffman, professor of language and literacy studies, on his collaboration with University of Texas San Antonio Professor of Literacy Education Misty Sailors and their longstanding partnership with educators in Mozambique.

Current work

In 2016, Misty and I became the primary literacy consultants on a seven-year project in Mozambique funded by the Canadian government. We work in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, CODE Canada, and Progresso (our local NGO).

This is our most recent and current project and is closest to what we do in our work at home as literacy teacher educators.  We are working directly with teacher training colleges to improve the quality of teacher preparation for primary schools.

Initially, we focused on designing and gathering baseline data on current practices in teacher preparation. Our work has shifted to focus on work with teacher educators to promote the use of interactive/participatory methodologies that encourage active teaching and active learning in academic courses. Our long-term goal is that the next generation of elementary teachers use these interactive tools and strategies in their own classrooms.

Adapting methods to local context

For the last year, we’ve been engaged in a feasibility study of a mentoring partnership between a teacher training college and their annex elementary schools. Our approach is modeled on the methods we use currently at both UT Austin and UT San Antonio in our tutoring and mentoring.

We have adapted our methods to the local Mozambique context and are working to develop a model that can be used nationally. Throughout our time working in Africa, we have been intentional in conducting research with our colleagues that can inform the international community.

Respect for local expertise

We are careful in our work to respect and use local expertise. We are sometimes positioned as external experts who bring solutions to problems. We are not that. We work hard in building relationships to be supportive of local efforts, local expertise, and local problem-posing.

We work as partners. We worry a great deal that much of international development work comes from a very different model where grand solutions are imported by outside experts to solve problems identified by these same outsiders.

Mostly, these grand solutions are simplistic, wrong, and deflect attention away from the powerful work that is being done by locals. Post-colonial oppression thrives in the form of international aid efforts.

 James Hoffman directs the undergraduate reading specialization program in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Texas at Austin and teaches graduate courses focused on literacy research. He is a professor of Language and Literacy Studies.

 For more than 15 years, he has conducted research and development work in Africa with Misty Sailors, professor of literacy education in the Department of Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching at University of Texas at San Antonio. Their work has taken them to several nations where they have collaborated with local experts and communities to improve literacy instruction in the primary grades.

 

Cervantes-Soon’s Juarez Girls Rising provides a counter-narrative to popular conceptions of Juarez, Mexico, and a guidepost for school communities who want to foster agency and resistance in the face of violence.

Claudia Cervantes-Soon, assistant professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, grew up in the border town of Juarez, Mexico. Described on this side of the border, often sensationalistically, as a drug den and killing field, especially of young girls, Juarez also is a place that Cervantes-Soon understands as so much more. As she says, “to many Mexicans, Juarez  … [was] a land where they could get a chance for survival in the global capitalism that had swallowed their country.”

Claudia Cervantes-SoonCervantes-Soon is a faculty member in the bilingual and bicultural education department within the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education. She’s interested in ethnographic approaches to studying, in part, what’s taught in the classroom and how identities are used, navigated and presented, particularly among culturally and linguistically diverse learners and young Latina/Mexican women.

Her book, Juarez Girls Rising has recently been selected by the Society for the Study of Social Problems as one of five finalists for the 2017 C. Wright Mills Award. In the book, Cervantes-Soon presents narratives of 10 high school girls coming of age within the backdrop of Juarez. Through their stories, the reader gains insight into how the unique educational experience the girls have in their schooling environment offers them tools, agency and voice that they can use for survival, renewal and resistance.

The girls in Juarez Girls Rising attend Prepatoria Altavista, an urban school founded on social justice principles in the late ’60s. The curriculum of the school is guided by a philosophy called autogestión, “a holistic and dialectical approach to individual and collective identity formation rooted in students’ experiences and critical understanding of their social realities.” This “self-authorship” empowers the young women to overcome barriers and develop meaningful identities within an overarching atmosphere of oppression and violence.

One has only to consider the protests against gun violence all across the United States to see how the stories and resiliency of these young girls, who are soon to be women, translates across and beyond the border on which they live. And, says Cervantes-Soon, “the teacher movements going on around the United States ask us to reflect on the meaning of education.” In that light, Juarez Girls Rising provides a guidepost for educators and students in creating transformative and empowering school communities that foster the strengths, identities, and agency of marginalized students in a complex world.

Cervantes-Soon is currently conducting research into black and Latino coalitions in dual-language programs in Austin-area schools. The project has been awarded the National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship. Read more about it on the College of Education website.

 

Photo of Melissa WetzelMelissa Wetzel, associate professor of language and literacy, shares research-based ideas about the literacy “crisis” and how understanding diverse literacies is a stronger educational approach.

Children come into the world with a set of language and literacy practices. Young children are always learning to name their world and discovering how language works. As they grow, they learn the words that are important to their worlds, what Paulo Freire called their “word worlds.”

When they enter school, they are often assessed in terms of their letter and word recognition, their phonemic awareness, vocabulary, reading comprehension, and letter and word writing. These are measures of literacy.

However, there are other aspects of literacy that are not measured because test developers cannot have a window into the world of words that surrounds each child. What we know, for example, is that there is not a word gap, as many researchers have found, between students who speak English as their first language and second language learners.

In fact, the number of words that bilingual and multilingual students know might far exceed the number of words that an English monolingual student knows. In addition, multilingual students have the additional knowledge of how to navigate their social worlds using more than one language!

Line of colored Candies and kid counting

Photo by Patrick Tomasso (@impatrickt) on Unsplash

One thing we are pretty sure of in the field of literacy is that teachers who know how to find out what a student knows and how they are literate—rather than gaps in their literacy—will be much better equipped to build on what the students know and help them to be successful.

Illiteracy is an unscientific concept and very political. Literacy rates were used to document literacy during a politically constructed “crisis of illiteracy” in the latter part of the 20th century. For example, under the Reagan Administration, many organizations began receiving funding from the federal government for programs designed to provide basic literacy education for those people who were identified as illiterate.

Like other “crises,” a crisis of illiteracy is dangerous for many reasons, primarily because it positions some people’s languages and literacies as deficit and narrowly defines what it means to be literate. It positions students who leave school as illiterate, which is often untrue, and shifts responsibility and blame onto the young person who may have been miseducated in many ways.

In a binary of literacy/illiteracy, we have to ask, “what counts/doesn’t count as literacy” and “who benefits from literacy programs and initiatives,” among other important critical questions. In a dynamic society in which what it means to be literate is always changing, it is hard to see how narrow measures of literacy (reading and writing assessments) might be meaningful to public conversations or policymakers in productive ways.

Organizations that are focused on literacy often rely on discourse from the literacy crisis to make claims about literacy rates and why they are a problem. This discourse appeals to those who want to help—through volunteering and monetary support. That can be a good thing. The danger, however, is that each time a literacy crisis discourse is evoked, dominant and narrow views about what counts are reproduced. That means we may move further and further away from understanding diverse literacies, what and how students know, and what literacies will support them most for participation in a changing world.

Wetzel is Judy Spence Fellow for Excellence and Associate Chair of the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. Her research and teaching focus on how pre-service teachers integrate critical literacy and culturally relevant practices into their field-based literacy teaching experiences. 

-Feature photo of books by Patrick Fore (@patrickian4) on Unsplash

Two girls discussing the books they are reading.

Photo by Christina S. Murrey

Because of the foundational importance of literacy to education, teachers are increasingly expected to integrate reading across various subjects, including science. But choosing appropriate texts can be a challenge for teachers, who may not be well-versed in how to critically evaluate them.

Headshot of Dr. Petrosino

Anthony Petrosino

Associate Professor Anthony Petrosino of the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin’s STEM Education program and doctoral student Sarah Jenevien have developed a solution that addresses this challenge.

The two collaborated with the college’s Office of Instructional Innovation to develop an online Children’s Science Book Database, where pre-service elementary teachers post reviews of science-related children’s books. The database was created in 2014 and has become part of pre-service teachers’ coursework within their science methods class.

“The review template encourages pre-service teachers to engage critically with the texts in terms of their scientific content, fostering scientific process skills and identifying potential stereotyping or gender bias,” says Petrosino.

Pre-service teachers are asked research-based questions. They must critically assess the literature for processes, content, readability, engagement, and interest. Their reviews provide basic information, such as a summary of the book and the maximum and minimum grade levels it would be appropriate for.

For example, one student wrote of the book Volcanoes, “The book could be considered slightly gender-biased because only images of male geologists are included. However, considering the publishing date, it’s most likely that only men were given credit for the science discoveries at the time.”

Currently, over 130 children’s books have been reviewed for the database, including titles such as Pluto’s Secret, A Butterfly is Patient, What Makes Day and Night? and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, which one reviewer noted has many positive aspects, but is not based on sound scientific principles, “as it is impossible for food to fly down from the sky three times a day.”

“By searching the database, pre-service teachers can easily find books that match their grade level and subject area, which decreases the difficulties associated with integrated lesson planning and increases the likelihood that they will use children’s books during their field teaching experiences,” says Petrosino. “This work helps teachers become critical consumers of children’s literature.”

The database is available for educators and the public to view reviews.

 

 

Jennifer Keys Adair, Ph,D., is an Associate Professor of Early Childhood Education at The University of Texas at Austin. Adair works with parents, teachers, administrators and young children to offer more dynamic and sophisticated learning experiences to children from resilient, marginalized communities in the US and globally. Her areas of expertise include early childhood education for children of immigrants, project-based learning, and the importance of young children recognizing racial discrimination and valuing cultural differences. Dr. Adair is a former Young Scholars Fellow with the Foundation for Child Development and a current Spencer Foundation major grant recipient.

Dr. Adair has published in numerous journals including Harvard Educational Review, Race, Ethnicity and Education and Teachers College Record. She conducts research and lectures in multiple countries, most recently in Austin as part of Blackademics and SXSWedu. Jennifer’s work and expertise can also be found in a variety of news outlets including The Conversation, Washington Post, CNN, and National Public Radio.

This talk considers learning as “opportunities” that are constructed in and translated through white supremacy. Using an historical interrogation provided by the work of Charles Mills, Adair argues that although learning and development are presented as an amoral, biological or even constructivist set of events, their application to children’s lives is one of constructing and reifying personhood and subpersonhood along racial lines.

Using interview data with young children, teachers, and directors in Texas and the particular case of the “word gap” argument, Adair shows how denying children of color certain learning experiences is often justified by a perceived “lack of development.” This denial then prevents children from demonstrating capabilities and contributes to blaming/changing children and families rather than supporting cultural communities and improving institutions and systems.

Texas Education Abroad

What starts here changes the world. Explore the ways our students and faculty study around the globe.

Dr. Bartholomew's class in switzerland

Sport Psychology in Switzerland

Students from the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education and other UT departments studied in Lausanne, Switzerland, during the 2017 Maymester. Department Chair John Bartholomew taught a course on Sport Psychology at the University of Lausanne

Lausanne, Switzerland

Dr. Skerret with Scotland government officials

Allison Skerrett Informs Scotland Government

Associate Professor Allison Skerrett was chosen as a global scholar to address educational inequalities in Scotland. Skerrett researches how to better understand the educational needs and gifts of a multicultural student population.

Scotland, United Kingdom

Dr. Jim Hoffman with students in Mozambique

Jim Hoffman Extends Literacy in Africa

Since the late 1990s, James Hoffman has worked in South Africa, Malawi, and Mozambique on literacy projects and teacher education supported by different agencies including private foundations in South Africa, USAID and the Canadian government.  A professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, his work is part of a collaborative effort with faculty at UT San Antonio.

Mozambique, Africa

North Cooc photo

North Cooc Researches Special Needs Teacher Preparation

North Cooc conducts research at the OECD headquarters in Paris on special needs teacher preparedness, and the factors that may predict differences globally.

Paris, France

Faculty in Ecuador with a longhorns banner

Health Outcomes in Ecuador

For more than 10 years, Julie Maslowsky has conducted research in partnership with the Ministry of Health in Quito, Ecuador, to help improve health outcomes for women and babies. She is an assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Education.

Quito, Ecuador

Video conference with New Zealand University

Distance Learning in New Zealand

Mark O’Reilly, chair of the Department of Special Education, leads a collaboration with researchers at New Zealand’s Victoria Wellington University. He and students in the autism and developmental disabilities research group connect regularly through virtual conferencing.

Wellington, New Zealand

Pearl diver in Japan

Pearl Diving in Japan

Hirofumi Tanaka of the Kinesiology and Health Education Department traveled to Japan to research pearl divers, and the effect that diving has on their physiological attributes such as arterial stiffness.

Tsukuba, Japan

ESL in Guatemala study abroad

ESL in Guatemala

Faculty from the Bilingual/Bicultural Education and Cultural Studies in Education programs bring a group of UT students on study abroad program to Antigua, Guatemala, where students take classes and volunteer at ESL schools.

Antigua, Guatemala

Juarez Girls Rising book cover

Claudia Cervantes-Soon Publishes Book on Juarez Girls

Cervantes-Soon’s Juarez Girls Rising is told through the stories of 10 girls attending school in Ciudad de Juarez, Mexico. The book provides a counternarrative to stories of regional violence, focusing on agency and resistance students can gain from a school community.

Juarez, Mexico

Photo of Toni Falbo and graduate student Sophia Y. Hooper

Psychological Advantages for China’s Only Children

Research from Professor Toni Falbo and graduate student Sophia Y. Hooper shows that China’s only children are more likely to have educated parents and, though they do receive more resources, expectations and pressures placed upon them.

China

Photo of Ricardo Ainslie

Ricardo Ainslie Conducts Low-Income Needs Assessment in Mexico

Professor Ricardo Ainslie and a research team have created a comprehensive assessment of health needs, determinants, and resources in underserved areas of Puebla, Mexico.

Puebla, Mexico

Photo of Soyoung Park

Soyoung Park Looks at Mental Health in South Korea

Special Education Assistant Professor Soyoung Park is working with a research team to use qualitative research in helping shift the public mindset on mental health and suicide in South Korea.

South Korea

Photo of Kevin Cokley and Team Going to Ghana

Kevin Cokley Helps Mitigate Effects of Colorism in Ghana

Professor Kevin Cokley is working with a research team to identify and mitigate the negative effects of colorism in Ghana.

Ghana, West Africa

barbell in gym

Establishing a Fitness Center in Shanghai

Professors Xiaofen Keating and Louis Harrison, Jr. are establishing an American Fitness Center in Shanghai aiming to introduce U.S. fitness culture to the Chinese population.

Shanghai, China

Jennifer Adair, associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction in the College of Education, is no stranger to discussing race and education. Her research and teaching interests focus on the role of race, culture, and cross-cultural experiences in early childhood education.

In addition to preparing pre-service teachers to address race and inequity in their classrooms, Adair believes it is valuable to help white parents of young white children address these issues with their kids too. According to Adair, young kids can handle learning about social justice issues and do not need to be sheltered from them.

Recently, on KLRU’s Blackademics TV, Adair drew from her experiences with her own children and outlined three steps that she has observed white parents of white children take as they strive to raise anti-racist kids.

  1. Teach children to notice and value differences in race and culture, and to see these differences as normal and wonderful.
  2. Share stories highlighting people of color that stress the characteristics they want their children to have, such as kindness, generosity, and ingenuity.
  3. Dive into difficult and challenging conversations about race and inequities their children may observe.

To learn more, watch, as Adair outlines the three patterns she has observed in white parents of white children as they raise their kids to appreciate the racial differences they see around them.

Undergraduate elementary education majors transform into teacher leaders through their experience at the College of Education. They leave the program prepared to teach in and partner with diverse, urban communities, where both students and teachers never stop learning.

Explore one such place you can go after graduation.