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Inquiries Into Literacy Learning and Cultural Competencies in a World of Borders

reviewed by Stacie Pettit & Laura Rychly - February 15, 2019

coverTitle: Inquiries Into Literacy Learning and Cultural Competencies in a World of Borders
Author(s): Tonya Huber & Philip S. Roberson (Eds.)
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1641132051, Pages: 284, Year: 2018
Search for book at Amazon.com

Inquiries into Literacy Learning and Cultural Competencies in a World of Borders features 11 chapters highlighting unique and compelling projects that give a voice to students and educators involved in building metaphorical bridges to cross cultural and linguistic borders. Huber writes that the volume was initiated because of the tremendous potential that we foresee for the conceptual framework of border crossing to inform the immediate challenges facing literacy& and global citizenship (p. 138). The authors accomplish the goal of providing theoretical and practical strategies to strengthen best practice pedagogy for literacy across multiple contexts in order to meet the needs of often marginalized students.

Chapter One provides, as the title suggests, research-based instructional strategies for teachers and independent reading strategies for emerging English language learners (ELLs). Instructional strategies include book discussions, retellings, and picture walks, while the variety of reading strategies discussed include the use of cognates, bilingual word banks, and funds of knowledge. The independent reading strategies give easy-to-implement, practical suggestions, some of which are more readily known while others may not be as familiar. Of note was the importance placed on understanding the behaviors and characteristics of ELLs as a first step in teaching reading; the authors suggest that this can be accomplished by making interest inventories, home visits, and drawing on the students home culture's funds of knowledge.

Chapter Two sheds light on the difficulties a group of Hispanic students face when transferring from community college to university, chronicling the differences between those enrolled and those not enrolled in a federally funded transfer program that provides financial and academic advising. Students in both groups experienced transfer shock, described a lack of accurate information about transferring courses and hours, financial stress, and difficulties adapting to university.

Part One ends by discussing an international service learning study abroad trip with objectives in line with the South African concept of ubuntu, or creating connections between people. The clarification of terms in this section was appreciated. For example, global competency is defined according to NAFSA and includes internationalism, comfort with dissonance, and multicultural leadership (Willard, n.d.). Additionally, the term high road study abroad programs (Hovey & Weinberg, 2009) is useful in differentiating the type of programs faculty should strive for rather than those that produce less understanding and respect among participants.

Part Two begins with a stand-out chapter focusing on interactions among ELLs and their non-ELL peers. The chapter describes a project that involved bringing ELLs and non-ELLs together to create a digital video welcoming new immigrant and refugee students to their high school. The findings from this chapter are important for educators of ELLs in classrooms with other non-ELLs; less structure at times is better than more structure, and students must be prepared to accept and expect ambiguity (p. 91).

In Chapter Five, Park and Simpson portray innovative pedagogy as bilingual adolescents serve as poetry translators and cultural mediators. The project is well-framed in a social literacy practice that is dynamic, meaning-making, and embedded with communities, families, and ways of life. Students are prepared in transcultural literacy as they negotiate differences and examine multiple perspectives while crossing borders of language and culture. Understanding, rather than judging, is prized as students connect to the author as well as their own culture(s).

The authors of Chapter Six describe a powerful, qualitative study voicing the experiences of refugee youth resetting in high schools in Arizona, specifically five who successfully graduated. Issues raised include the need for the hidden curriculum to be communicated to parents and students, as well as the complexities of children as translators.

Chapter Seven is unique in that it does not present the experiences of teachers or students. Instead, it summarizes findings from research on how the brain functions differently as a result of learning multiple languages. Specifically, the author builds a case for the cognitive advantages that are experienced by bilinguals as a result of their having to switch between languages: Bilinguals have been shown to outperform monolinguals in their ability to switch between two cognitive tasks such as identifying the color or shape of an object, most likely due to practicing this skill when switching between languages (p. 146).

Chapter Eight documents the relationship between language use and identity. The author reviews studies conducted with immigrant Chinese and Mexican adolescents, and presents findings organized into four themes: heritage language and identity, English language and identity, bilingualism/multilingualism and identity, and code-switching and identity (p. 168). The author concludes that adolescents develop strong, positive identities when they retain close bonds to their families, which is accomplished by developing proficiency in their heritage language. This is contrasted with less positive identity development experienced by learners who abandon their heritage language for English. Bilingualism and code-switching strengthen immigrant students identities as language brokers as their language skills allow them to successfully navigate multiple contexts.

Chapters Nine, Ten, and Eleven present the experiences of teachers who are learning to be globally competent themselves in order to better support their students in this endeavor. In Chapter Nine, English teachers in China participate in a professional development experience that models authentic language learning as opposed to traditional, decontextualized vocabulary and grammar instruction. In Chapter Ten, teacher education students from the United States participate in a study abroad experience in London. The authors emphasize that the success of their London internship program is due to the fact that their institution has embraced this work as normal and essential given that todays teachers will better be able to meet the needs of todays students if they have multicultural experiences. Chapter Eleven describes how, by equipping teachers with global citizenship and intercultural literacy skills, collective efforts to educate global citizens are strengthened through a ripple effect.

This book will be useful in many undergraduate and graduate courses that study elements of linguistic diversity. The strengths include personal accounts and unique projects, and the weaknesses (which are few) include instances of mechanical errors or typos. The research is qualitative in nature across the chapters, which allows for the rich description of experiences, however, these could have been accompanied by a quantitative or mixed-methods study to achieve a greater balance of methods. An overall observation is that the projects and programs described were innovative and inspiring, yet the discussions and conclusions at times did not provide novel outcomes or recommendations.

Several overarching themes are present across the chapters. One is the simple but powerful idea of bridge-building. Most of the chapters present ideas that can be thought of as suggestions for how, or reasons why, to build bridges for students who are border crossers. In some cases, this takes the form of language teaching and learning; other times, the bridge-building was more metaphorical, such as in the work described in Chapter Four to help ELL and non-ELL students develop richer understandings of each others experiences. Another theme is that of connectedness. Several authors, again either explicitly or implicitly, explore ways in which language, rather than being a barrier, can be skillfully used by globally minded teachers to forge connections.

This text provides concrete examples of the assets multilingual students bring to the classroom and the agency possessed by many ELLs and refugee students. Educators of all levels will benefit from the stories in this text as we endeavor to support all students as they journey across borders.



Hovey, R., & Weinberg, A. (2009). Global learning and the making of citizen diplomats. In R. Lewis (Ed.), Study abroad and the making of global citizens: Higher education and the quest for global citizenship (pp. 33-48). New York, NY: Routledge.

Willard, J. (n.d.). Global competence. Retrieved from https://www.nafsa.org/_/File/_/global_competency_2.pdf


Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: February 15, 2019
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22675, Date Accessed: 10/16/2021 8:45:29 AM

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About the Author
  • Stacie Pettit
    Augusta University
    E-mail Author
    STACIE PETTIT, PhD, is an associate professor and middle grades program coordinator in the Department of Teaching and Leading at Augusta University. Her research interests include teaching English language learners, Junior Model United Nations (JMUN), and professional development school partnerships.
  • Laura Rychly
    Augusta University
    E-mail Author
    LAURA RYCHLY is an assistant professor in the Department of Advanced Studies and Innovation at Augusta University. She enjoys working with prospective and practicing teachers to help find tools to make classroom experiences fulfilling for teachers and their students.
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