From Blame to Awareness: Expanding Teacher Candidates’ Understandings of Emergent Bilinguals’ Literacy and Language Capacities

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Althier Margaret Lazar


Teacher candidates today are likely to blame students and their families in underserved communities for their inability to succeed in school rather than recognize the system of failure embedded in institutional practices that disfavors and disenfranchises minority groups (Castro 2010, p. 207). In particular, many tend to view students’ literacy and language abilities as delayed, often because they assume that students’ caregivers do not have the requisite skills, knowledge, time, or desire to provide their children with school-valued print and language experiences. These deficit orientations of students and families need to be replaced with more informed understandings about the socio-political factors that shape schooling and access to school-valued literacies and languages, and more critical awareness of the types of cultural wealth that exist in these communities (Yosso, 2005). Such inquiry is needed to help candidates to see students’ inherent assets and their own roles in addressing students’ literacy/language needs. This article examines one university’s efforts to complicate teacher candidates’ understandings of children and caregivers through a course called “Literacy, Language & Culture.” Data collected over a two-year period with 191 candidates shows that many teacher candidates can evolve to see children’s literacy and language capacities to varying degrees and their own responsibility in fortifying instruction for students and connecting with caregivers, but that more focused and coordinated work is required to make this a uniform goal across teacher preparation programs.

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Author Biography

Althier Margaret Lazar, Saint Joseph's University

Althier Lazar, Ph.D. is Professor of Education in the Teacher Education Department at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia.