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Connecting School and the Multilingual Home: Theory and Practice for Rural Educators

reviewed by Mary Beth Snow Balderas - September 21, 2020

coverTitle: Connecting School and the Multilingual Home: Theory and Practice for Rural Educators
Author(s): Maria R. Coady
Publisher: Multilingual Matters, Clevedon
ISBN: 178892326X, Pages: 152, Year: 2019
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Maria Coady’s Connecting School and the Multilingual Home draws upon more than a decade of research and community partnership with rural schools and community organizations in North Florida to offer a much-needed critical look at multilingual family engagement in these contexts. Situated at the intersection of the literature on family engagement, bilingual education, and rural communities and education, the text offers theoretical understanding and concrete ideas for both practicing teachers and administrators in rural school communities and preservice teacher candidates expanding their understanding of bilingualism in the United States school system. A significant strength of this text is that it scaffolds the reader’s theoretical learning and ability to apply it to their own particular context, making the text practical and engaging for school-based practitioners and preservice teachers with field exposure as well as for various community members (e.g., social workers, community organizations, health organizations) that interact with rural multilingual families in the education space. It would be particularly relevant reading in undergraduate and graduate level education courses focused on family engagement, culturally sustaining pedagogies, or multilingual literacies, and in concert with other texts that elaborate on strengths-based approaches. Importantly, this text begins to fill an enormous gap in making visible the specific experiences of multilingual learners in rural communities, as an overwhelming majority of research and pedagogical resources for multilingual learners center urban and suburban educational contexts. 


The book is organized in eight chapters, beginning with the larger theoretical intersections relevant to rural multilingual families and building on these understandings with explicit connections to and ideas for practice. Subsequent chapters are informed by Coady’s specific research context and draw on specifics of rural Latinx multilingual communities as well as the author’s experience working with community health organizations. Each chapter begins with a real scenario that the content of the chapter is grounded in and ends with activities that extend the ideas of the chapter into reflection or action to impact the reader’s own practice and context. In keeping with the theoretical framework of the text, though the activities and data shared originate from Coady’s research in North Florida, they are not presented as rigid or prescriptive but rather as tools to engage the practitioner in relational understanding with families in their communities.

The first three chapters situate Coady’s text in relation to the various bodies of literature it draws upon. Importantly, the text approaches both multilingual families and the rural communities they inhabit in strength-based ways, noting that both “rural” and “multilingual” are broad terms used to stand in for complex existences. In Chapter One, both rurality and multilingualism are approached dynamically, not as an “alternative” to normative urban and monolingual standards. Coady draws on the work of John and Ford (2017) that describes the ways that rurality is viewed as inherently negative in light of the urban/rural binary and asserts a perspective on rural places that holds rural places as sites of “resistance and collective being” (p. 59). The author’s framing of teaching multilingual students integrates Ladson-Billings’ (1994) culturally relevant pedagogy and Lucas et al.’s (2008) five essential understandings for teachers of language learners with this dynamic view of rurality to propose a framework for educating teachers of multilingual learners in rural places.


In Chapter Two, Coady draws on Bryk & Schneider (2002) in using relational trust and care as a foundational element of contextualized family engagement, as well as broad definitions of family that move beyond “parent/s” to embrace multigenerational families and networks of care. The author uses “engagement” expansively, noting that multilingual families in the United States have a broad range of cultural backgrounds with differing views on the relationship between family and school and that popular frameworks for family engagement are often based on Western norms. For example, Epstein et al.’s (2001) six-dimensional framework for conceptualizing parental involvement, which prioritizes parent presence at the school and facilitation of school-based activities at home, is one model that narrowly conceptualizes the role of family in a child’s education and may contribute to deficit ideologies about multilingual families. In Chapter Three, building on the strengths-based approaches described in the first two chapters, Coady provides examples of various parental engagement strategies, including those of Henderson and Mapp (2002), Epstein (2011), Arias and Morillo-Campbell (2008), and WIDA’s (2017) ABCs, and offers her own framework of differentiated engagement for educators that is built on a cycle of reflection and action. 


While the earlier chapters focus more on broader theoretical understandings of rural multilingual family engagement, Chapters Four through Seven focus specifically on praxis, exploring first the ways that school-based personnel can come to more deeply understand families in their community, including ways to support families in engaging with the school in light of cultural and language differences. The activity at the end of Chapter Four, the “family information table,” is a tool that Coady uses with teacher education and graduate students to more deeply explore families’ cultural and linguistic backgrounds and understandings of how to support students in the classroom. Examples of information for the table include “beliefs about multilingualism and multiliteracies,” “reasons for migrating,” and “beliefs about education.” Chapter Five provides concrete examples of ways that multilingual family engagement has been supported in Coady’s research site and includes photos of resources that her team used to make normative resources, documents, and practices of U.S. schooling, including reading report cards and traveling through the school campus, more accessible to multilingual migrant families. Chapter Six provides a more detailed explanation of the intersections of education, poverty, and immigration for Latinx families in the United States. Importantly, while most of Coady’s research participants are Latinx, she notes that migrant and refugee families in the United States come from a variety of cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Highlighting the author’s collaboration with a rural health organization, Chapter Seven focuses on the role of community organizations as cultural brokers, inviting educators and education students to think expansively about the various actors involved in holistically supporting rural multilingual families. In the final chapter, Coady recontextualizes rural educational contexts and their intersection with multilingual families, firmly asserting the need for continued attention to the specific challenges and opportunities they provide.

Throughout the various activities and examples in the text, Coady encourages the reader to engage in the inquiry that is necessary for deep understanding of their own particular context; in this way, the text facilitates the reader’s own engagement in the larger theoretical learning while honoring the unique needs of their particular local site. This book will be an important resource for facilitating deeper understanding of rural multilingual families as well as for developing strengths-based practice for preservice and practicing teachers alike, as well as for a broader audience of community organizations and individuals in rural contexts.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: September 21, 2020
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23440, Date Accessed: 10/21/2020 3:08:06 AM

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About the Author
  • Mary Beth Snow Balderas
    University of Colorado Boulder
    E-mail Author
    MARY BETH SNOW BALDERAS is a doctoral student in bilingual education and teacher learning at the University of Colorado Boulder’s School of Education. She is currently working on projects involving research based writing strategies to support emergent bilingual students.
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