An Assets- and Equity-Based Approach to Multilingualism, Multiliteracy, and Multiculturalism: Harnessing the Development of a District-Wide Strategy to Foster Learning, Shift Mindsets, and Seed System-Level Change
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CitationWarren, Sarah Catherine. 2017. An Assets- and Equity-Based Approach to Multilingualism, Multiliteracy, and Multiculturalism: Harnessing the Development of a District-Wide Strategy to Foster Learning, Shift Mindsets, and Seed System-Level Change. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
AbstractIn the United States and globally, there is growing recognition of the extensive cognitive, emotional, social, and economic benefits of multilingualism, multiliteracy, and multiculturalism. At the same time, a double standard persists in the way that society—and many education systems—view language development: monolingual English speakers who learn a second language are typically seen as high achievers, lauded for developing a valuable 21st-Century skill. However, students who are in the midst of learning English as a second language (while simultaneously studying core academic content in English, in most cases) are often viewed through a deficit-clouded lens—labeled as “Limited English Proficient,” over-classified as learning-disabled, and/or insufficiently challenged by educators who may mistake still-emerging English capacity for a lack of overall academic ability. Meanwhile, many school systems do not capitalize on students’ linguistic and cultural heritage to support learning and academic achievement, which not only contributes to language loss among children, but also represents a significant missed opportunity to increase student engagement; build a positive sense of social, cultural, and academic identity; and improve learning outcomes.
This strategic project aimed to challenge this deficit-minded orientation by infusing a school system with an assets- and equity-based perspective on students’ linguistic and cultural heritage. Over the course of nine months, I worked with a dynamic and dedicated team of educators in Chelsea Public Schools to develop a district-wide strategy for cultivating, valuing, and formally recognizing multilingualism, multiliteracy, and multiculturalism. Chelsea is a vibrant gateway city just north of Boston, Massachusetts that has long served as the first home to recently arrived immigrants from around the world. Today, approximately 85% of students in the district are Hispanic and over 25% are classified as English Language Learners.
In this capstone, I describe and reflect on our effort to develop and win support for a strategy grounded in research, best practice, and local context; to lay the foundation for its successful implementation; and to harness this process to begin establishing the mindsets, structures, and educational approaches that would contribute to a strong assets-oriented culture throughout the system and ultimately, we hoped, improvements in student outcomes.
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