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Introduction and Overview

This introduction explains how and why we developed these lessons. We invite teachers to modify these plans to fit their own classroom needs and to give us feedback after you try the lessons.

Do you have students who are the children of immigrants?
Do your students have experience translating/interpreting or “brokering” language for others?

Here are a series of activities to explore students’ experiences as language and culture brokers, and to connect the skills youth use in this work to academic literacy skills. By “language brokering” we mean the many ways in which the children of immigrants use their knowledge of two languages to speak, read, write, listen and do things for others.

About the Design Of these lessons

The activities are designed in the “Cultural Modeling” tradition as developed by Carol Lee (see her book Culture, Literacy and Learning: Taking Bloom in the Midst of the Whirlwind) in which everyday language and cultural practices that students engage in outside of school are treated as resources for learning in school, and used for building disciplinary knowledge and cultivating academic language. The goal of these activities is to help all students to expand their repertoires of linguistic practice by connecting school-valued language skills to the language skills they cultivate in their everyday lives, and to empower students by helping them to reframe their own abilities, and validate them. This involves:

  1. Working with students to identify what they know and do well in their lives outside of school
  2. Working with students to raise awareness about the skills they deploy as they engage in those activities
  3. Identifying analogues with school-valued language skills
  4. Helping students to draw connections between their everyday competencies and those that are valued in school

We have designed activities that can be adapted for use with children of any age, and for classrooms that include children who have experiences as translators/interpreters or language brokers for their families as well as those who do not – though our unit on persuasive writing will be easiest to implement in grades 6-12. Where possible, we have indicated which activities are more appropriate for older and younger students, and/or suggested how to adapt the activities for different kinds of classrooms. We have also identified corresponding California State Standards.

About the Activities & Lessons

The first set of activities is designed to elicit what students already know about translating/interpreting or language brokering, and specific experiences they have had with the practice. We present a core set of activities for learning about students’ experiences, as well as additional activities to deepen and extend their explorations of this work. The collective experiences of students in any given classroom then become resources to draw on as you proceed with the lessons. Throughout the year, as well as during these activities, we encourage you to reference students’ specific experiences through such statements as, “Remember when Juan told us about translating a jury summons for his mother?”

Following the set of introductory activities, we describe a series of lessons that leverage language brokering experiences for the development of persuasive writing skills. This persuasive writing unit is described in more detail in Martinez, Orellana, Pacheco and Carbone et all (2008) and Pacheco (2009).

Finally, we suggest other ways that translation can serve as a generative construct that can be infused throughout the curriculum, with “translations” to math, science, Social Studies and beyond.

A note about adapting the unit

These lessons are not scripts that need to be followed rigidly. Pick and choose the activities that make most sense for your students and your subject matter. You might want to spend more time on some activities than on others. And there are many related issues that can be explored – for example, you might discuss language policies, immigrant rights, and immigrant family contributions to society (with language brokering serving as an important contribution) – even as you also use this material to develop academic literacy.

Teacher Feedback

These lessons are a work in progress and we would love to hear from you as you try them out in your classroom, or try related new activities. We would also love to hear your own ideas for building on bilingual youths’ language experiences. Sign up to our wiki to tell us what you tried and how these things worked in your classroom. Your comments will become part of the repository and available to other teachers as well.

Design Team Credits

These lessons were developed by a team of graduate students, researchers and teachers, led by Marjorie Faulstich Orellana in the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies: Paula Carbone, Jacqueline D’warte, Corrissa Hernández, Clifford Lee, Danny C. Martinez, Ramón Martínez, Elizabeth Montaño, Mariana Pacheco and Elexia Reyes McGovern.

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