Do teachers’ beliefs about bilingual learning affect opportunities and outcomes for students?

Misconceptions about linguistic diversity may lead teachers to see differences as deficits, influencing their classroom policies.

 Project title 
Teacher Beliefs about Multilingual Learners: Understanding language ideologies to inform how we teach about language learning

 Grant effective dates 
August 1, 2018August 1, 2019

 Principal investigator(s) 
Katie Bernstein

 Originating sponsor 
Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College

The challenge

All speakers hold beliefs about how language works and should be used; beliefs often based in supposition rather than fact. Many speakers in the U.S. believe a Southern accent connotes lack of education or intelligence. Others believe speaking a language other than English in the home is detrimental to learning English in school. Neither of these beliefs is borne out by research, yet they and others may influence the way children learn if those beliefs are held by teachers. Teachers who harbor misconceptions about linguistically diverse students’ learning — due to lack of training, coursework or experience —  may mistake differences for deficits, affecting their classroom language policies and shaping not only students’ language use, but also opportunities to learn and learning outcomes. Conversely, when teachers understand linguistic diversity and believe in its value, multilingual and multidialectal students are positively impacted.

The approach

Assistant Professor Katie Bernstein

Asst. Prof. Katie Bernstein

Assistant Professor Kate Anderson

Asst. Prof. Kate Anderson

This project, funded by a Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College internal research grant, seeks to understand how preservice and inservice teachers’ attitudes toward linguistic diversity vary when they are asked to think about multilingualism for different learners; in particular, Spanish-speakers learning English and English-speakers learning Spanish. In fall 2018, assistant professors Katie Bernstein and Kate Anderson will recruit participants from among preservice teacher candidates enrolled in an MLFTC teacher preparation program, and from students in the Master of Arts degree program in Curriculum and Instruction – English as a Second Language. Participants will complete a language ideologies survey and a Likert-scale ideologies survey, and respond to a free-write prompt providing feedback to a fictitious school district debating the conversion of an elementary school to a dual language school. One version of the prompt will describe the school’s demographics as predominantly English-speaking, the other predominantly Spanish-speaking. Letters will be accompanied by a photo of either white or Latino children to further prime participants to view the program as promoting elite or folk bilingualism.

Findings & impact

Funding for this project commences in August 2018. Throughout June–August 2019, Bernstein and Anderson will complete their analyses, write articles to be submitted to Bilingual Research Journal and Language and Education, and prepare a grant proposal for additional research to be submitted to the Lyle Spencer Foundation in October 2019.

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