Decades of research and policy efforts have acknowledged that caregivers1 may be key levers for improving children’s educational success and that the involvement of caregivers has been associated with positive educational outcomes (Bryk et al., 2010; Epstein, 1995; Fan and Chen, 2001; Henderson and Mapp, 2002; Jeynes, 2015). Conventional roles for caregiver engagement have included checking homework, attending open houses, participating in parent-teacher conferences, and joining parent-teacher associations (Ishimaru et al., 2016), which can position caregivers as needing “remediation” in supporting their child’s educational success (Baquendo-López, Alexander, and Hernandez, 2013; Barajas-López and Ishimaru, 2016). Ishimaru and colleagues (2016) acknowledged how studies of community-based reform have highlighted the powerful role that families and communities can play through “their culture and linguistic repertoires, lived experiences, social and economic ‘funds of knowledge,’ disciplinary understandings, social and cultural resources, community leadership, and ways of knowing” (p. 851; e.g., Bang et al., 2014; Gutiérrez and Rogoff, 2003; Heath, 1983; Ishimaru, Barajas-López, and Bang, 2015; Lareau, 2003; López, Scribner, and Mahitivanichcha, 2001; Moll et al., 1992; Valdés, 1996; Wang and Huguley, 2012; Warren et al., 2009). We draw from this broader discussion on underrepresented populations as few studies are specific to English learners (ELs).
1 The term caregiver is used throughout this chapter instead of parents to acknowledge that not all children live with their biological parents and instead have other guardians in charge of their well-being.
In Chapter 4, we briefly introduced the notion that teachers’ orientation(s) toward and preparation to work with ELs is associated with potential learning opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) for these students. Here, we expand our discussion of this relationship, and highlight the important role of established connections between schools, families, and communities in supporting STEM learning for ELs.2 We return to the notion of positioning of ELs in STEM and discuss how positioning that is based on views of the students’ home culture can either be beneficial or detrimental to their learning. We then describe traditional models for family engagement that emerged from early reform efforts and the ways in which these models have positioned caregivers as having a passive role within the educational system. Because much of the literature is shaped on the perception of families and community, we discuss ways in which professional learning opportunities that afford teacher, family, and community interaction can positively impact the STEM learning environment for ELs. In the final section, we highlight the research on how building stronger connections between teachers and families and between schools and communities creates new contexts for mutual understanding, which, in turn, can enhance EL students’ opportunities and motivation to engage in STEM learning.
Carlone (2004) articulated how current classroom practices often perpetuate standards and methods that portray science and mathematics as “objective, privileged ways of knowing pursued by an intellectual elite” (p. 308), thus creating a disconnect with the ways of knowing that students from linguistically and culturally diverse backgrounds often bring to school. Olitsky (2006) illustrated the ways in which all students are routinely treated as homogenous when it comes to access, science and mathematics learning needs, and desired outcomes, regardless of the sociocultural, sociolinguistic, and sociopolitical factors that undergird current science and mathematics practices in U.S. public schools. Calabrese Barton (1998) called this a “one size fits all” educational mentality (p. 531) and critiqued the assumption that all students have equal access to science learning opportunities or that they have the same STEM learning goals.
Others have argued that for students to engage in academic discourse in the classroom, there is a requirement to embrace certain identity posi-
2 This chapter includes content drawn from papers commissioned by the committee titled Teachers’ Knowledge and Beliefs about English Learners and Their Impact on STEM Learning by Julie Bianchini (2018) and Mathematics Education and Young Dual Language Learners by Sylvia Celedón-Pattichis (2018).
tions, which many traditionally underrepresented students, including ELs, may feel ambivalent towards enacting (Brown, 2006; Paris, 2012a). In Lee’s (2004) study of six 4th-grade teachers involved in a professional development project in a large urban district in the Southeast, teachers understood the community of scientists and of students to sometimes be in conflict. Such conflicts generally involved cultural values and practices related to the epistemology of science, and the teachers identified three areas of tension: (1) the questioning and inquiry central to science might not be encouraged in some cultures; (2) the autonomy needed to engage in inquiry might be in conflict with some cultures’ respect for teachers’ authority; and (3) the movement between collaboration and independence in science might conflict with some cultures’ preference for group decision making (Cone et al., 2014; Lee, 2004). When ELs’ home culture and the school culture are in disagreement, their abilities, aptitudes, and intents can easily be misjudged (Civil and Hunter, 2015; Oakes, 2005).
With the goal of unearthing underutilized academic resources that can empower students in STEM learning contexts, Tan and Calabrese Barton (2012) envisioned critical literacies that afford agency and opportunities to engage with science and mathematics in a variety of ways, while recognizing life experiences outside of school as valid sources of knowledge. These ideas rely on three principles of transformation: transformation of discourses and practices, transformation of identities, and transformation of spaces for learning/doing science (and mathematics). The transformation of discourses and practices entails de-privileging the authority of text and the teacher, shifting from representing science and mathematics content as final and complete, to “knowledge-in-the making,” whereby students contribute to defining and situating the mathematical and scientific problems, methods, and limitations of evidence. In transforming identities, traditional narratives around who can do science and mathematics and the norms for participation are redefined. The identities of students that are established through their home language and culture are legitimized in the STEM classrooms as foundations for meaningful learning, and likewise, they are supported in developing a sense of their place and voice in tackling real-world issues. Lastly, the transformation in spaces for learning/doing science and mathematics affords opportunities to operate in identities and practices. Through STEM, students gain both the space and agency to alter the world to be more closely aligned to what they envision as more just (Tan and Calabrese Barton, 2012, p. 40).
There are powerful pedagogical models that enhance mainstream forms of STEM teaching and learning, in part by recognizing the experiences of those who are historically excluded by these mainstream models. One model proposes a less hierarchical dialogue between teachers and students, so that all students have a greater voice in the classroom (Moreno-
Lopez, 2005). In Cahnmann and Remillard’s (2002) study of two 3rd-grade teachers involved in professional development opportunities, researchers found that both teachers were committed to making mathematics accessible and meaningful to their diverse students but had different approaches. Ms. Arieto worked to create a bridge between her students’ home language and culture and the academic expectations of the school. She empathized with her students’ life experiences and provided nurturing transitions from home to school, chose activities and tools that she believed would motivate students and connect to their culture and language, and used Spanish to introduce new mathematics concepts and reinforce learning in English. The second teacher, Ms. Kitcher, consistently engaged her students in reform-based mathematics, emphasizing mathematics concepts and explanations. She wanted her students to enjoy mathematics, see it as relevant, and see themselves as competent. However, she avoided making specific references to class and culture and assumed academic language was universal. In the end, the researchers concluded their study by recommending that teachers move to using both a mathematical and a cultural perspective in their teaching of diverse students, or what they called culturally contextualized instruction. Teachers of students who are typically underrepresented according to their social class and cultural and linguistic backgrounds need support to discover and take advantage of these potential instructional resources (Rosebery and Warren, 2008).
Early educational reforms used “parent involvement” as a way to remedy the underperformance of students, as the cause was deemed to lie outside of schools (Ishimaru et al., 2016). Activities of involvement were primarily in the form of a caregiver’s participation in school open houses, parent-teacher conferences, and parent-teacher association meetings. These activities positioned parents as having a passive role (Baquedano-López, Alexander, and Hernandez, 2013) and led to caregivers and families from underrepresented communities feeling unwelcome, powerless, and marginalized in their children’s schools (Delgado-Gauitan, 2004; Ishimaru et al., 2016; Lareau and Horvat, 1999; Lawrence-Lightfoot, 2003).
While the nature of home-school interactions understandably change as students progress through the grade levels, continued home-school connections are essential for positive student outcomes at all ages (Catsambis, 2001; Sanders, 2009). Caregivers often feel the greatest need to engage with their children’s teachers in the elementary grades; however, the developmental challenges and the acceleration of academic demands in secondary schools means that ongoing home-school collaborations in support of adolescents remain critical (Patrikakou, 2004). Yet, when home-school
collaboration does occur in support of secondary students, events for caregivers typically reach only a “narrow segment of the parent population and represent only select types of parental participation” (Gonzalez-DeHass and Willems, 2003, p. 89). Caregivers who are not members of this group are either explicitly or implicitly defined as “others,” and this kind of “othering” can be viewed as institutional “cultural illiteracy” (Wainer, 2004) that often leads to institutional discriminatory practices toward ELs and their families. Deterministic and neglectful attitudes toward differences in school experiences can have a pathologizing effect on ELs, situating their academic struggles as a function of the challenges facing their immigrant families, without analyzing the roles that schools play as the bridge between community inputs and student outcomes (Shields, 2004). Schools can thus find it easy to blame families for the academic struggles of ELs in the same way that policy makers find it easy to blame teachers for poor student performance (Garcia and Guerra, 2004).
Traditional Views of Caregiver-School Relationships
Baquendano-López, Alexander, and Hernandez (2013) described several ways in which the relationship between caregivers and schools have been conceptualized by the following four programs: Caregivers as First Teachers: Early Learning Programs for Ages 0–5; Caregivers as Learners: Family Literacy Programs; Caregivers as Partners: Partnerships, Contracts, and Compacts; and Caregivers as Choosers and Consumers: School Choice.
In the early learning programs, building from the idea that ages 0 to 5 are critical to cognitive growth, the assumption was that for students to be successful in school, caregivers needed to prepare their children for educational success. This led to federally funded programs designed to assist caregivers in ensuring that they had the necessary preparation to be their child’s first teacher. What is important to note is that early childhood learning programs dictated the parental involvement practices and these program did not leverage the set of cultural practices from the child’s families and/or communities. Family literacy programs became popular as a way to address home-school connections for districts and schools with culturally and linguistically diverse populations. Although family literacy programs encouraged families to read to their children and considered caregivers to be bearers of knowledge, the design of many programs was based on deficit assumptions about families and their cultural practices (Valdés, 1996; Whitehouse and Colvin, 2001). With Caregivers as Partners, schools and districts were required to share information with caregivers on school programs, academic standards, and assessments with the intent that caregivers would be more “knowledge partners” (Epstein and Hollifield, 1996). Moreover, it is known that caregivers make choices about their child’s edu-
cation: what schools to attend, the courses their child is placed in, special education services, language use, and testing. However, all of these choices are constrained by structural inequalities (Baquendano-López, Alexander, and Hernandez, 2013).
Empowerment Approaches to Family and Community Involvement
Recently, there has been a recognition of the importance of moving beyond traditional caregiver involvement models toward a discourse of family engagement (Ishimaru et al., 2016; Warren et al., 2009). A range of powerful family engagement models have been proposed in the attempt to replace deficit orientations with asset-oriented views of typically underrepresented youth, including ELs (Calabrese Barton et al., 2004; Civil and Andrade, 2003; Fournier, 2014; González, Moll, and Amanti, 2005). These models provide alternative roles that caregivers and teachers can adopt to support the academic and social development of these students (Carreón et al., 2005; Olivos, Jimenez-Castellanos, and Ochoa, 2011). For example, Fournier (2014) reframed “inclusion,” placing significant value on the expertise and resources of students’ caregivers, families, and communities to provide unique learning opportunities outside of the classroom, illustrating an authentic relationship between teachers and families. Additionally, the “ecologies of parent engagement” framework can be used to analyze the way caregivers make sense of their own engagement with schools (Calabrese Barton et al., 2004). This framework validates caregivers’ unique cultural capital to support academic learning, recognizing cultural and linguistic diversity as assets rather than as limitations on learning, and advocates for building reciprocal and authentic relationships between teachers and caregivers.
Ishimaru and colleagues (2016) suggested that “cultural brokers can play a critical role in bridging the racial, cultural, linguistic, and power divides between schools and nondominant [caregivers] and families” (p. 852). Cultural brokers can create spaces that help families to understand school culture, educate them on improving their child’s achievement, connect them to institutional resources, and advocate for change (Ishimaru et al., 2016; Martinez-Cosio and Iannacone, 2007).
Building from the ideas presented in Chapter 4, the funds of knowledge paradigm is often used by educators as a transformative practice in connecting homes and schools. In this theoretical framework, it was suggested that “only through the study of the sociopolitical, historical, and economic context of households could a static view of students’ and families’ culture be avoided, and as a consequence, the social and intellectual knowledge present in homes be recognized as viable resources to be leveraged in the classroom” (Baquendano-López, Alexander, and Hernandez, 2013, p. 37).
This particular view positions families to be stakeholders in their child’s education and go beyond traditional roles of caregiver involvement. That is, educators can recognize that individuals participate in a range of communities in and out of school that can be leveraged for creating learning spaces that build on these skills and practices (Gutiérrez, 2008; Gutiérrez and Rogoff, 2003; Ishimaru, Barajas-López, and Bang, 2015; Lee, 2003).
Whereas most of the research on how to leverage community and family funds of knowledge to build instructional congruence and culturally sustaining pedagogies with ELs has focused predominantly on Hispanic communities, studies in other cultural, ethnic, and linguistic communities have provided additional insights (González, Moll, and Amanti, 2005; Ishimaru, Barajas-López, and Bang, 2015; Lee and Fradd, 1998; Paris, 2012b). For example, research involving Creole-speaking Haitian immigrant students and their families has pointed to cultural and linguistic assets, such as the use of argument patterns to be similar to scientific argumentation (Hudicourt-Barnes, 2003). Additionally, their affinity for multilingualism, multiculturalism, and communal responsibility may be related to the goal of civic engagement. The value they place on work ethic, academic success, and discipline also aligns with essential needs for STEM achievement (Buxton, Lee, and Mahotiere, 2009; Cone et al., 2014). Until more work is done to identify and acknowledge potential academic resources of these kinds, such cultural capital will continue to be underutilized in STEM classrooms (Ishimaru, Barajas-López, and Bang, 2015).
Teachers’ attitudes about race, ethnicity, language, and socioeconomic status are critical factors that establish the parameters that influence the degree to which caregivers become involved in their children’s schooling (Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler, 1997). To expect teachers to embrace linguistic and cultural differences as assets rather than as deficits requires teachers to engage in deep and self-critical analysis of how they perceive social and cultural differences in family-school interactions. Researchers who study inclusive science and mathematics education advocate for an alternative discourse around content area learning that values collaborative family-school interactions as a way to enhance all students’ learning. Structuring opportunities for teachers to learn alongside their students and their students’ caregivers is a promising approach toward this goal (Bernier, Allexsaht-Snider, and Civil, 2003; Buxton et al., 2016). In fact, interventions that engage teachers and caregivers with a science or mathematics focus have been shown to help teachers better understand their students’ ways of thinking related to STEM concepts, have allowed teach-
ers to recognize multiple ways of demonstrating content area learning, and have offered teachers new insights into how they can more efficiently work with traditionally underrepresented students and their families (see Bernier, Allexsaht-Snider, and Civil, 2003; Buxton, Allexsaht-Snider, and Rivera, 2012; Civil, 2012; Hammond, 2001; McCollough and Ramirez, 2012; Upadhyay, 2009).
Teacher’s Views of ELs’ Home and Family Context
A small number of studies have looked at preservice teachers’ beliefs about the mathematics education of ELs. However, extensive work by Fernandes on the development of MEELS (Mathematics Education of English Learners Scale) has addressed teachers’ perceptions of parents and the home context (Fernandes and McLeman, 2012; Fernandes et al., 2017; McLeman, Fernandes, and McNulty, 2012). Findings from a survey report, administered to 215 preservice teachers, revealed the following:
- 42 percent of preservice teachers agreed or strongly agreed that some ELs’ home culture negatively impacts their mathematics learning.
- 85 percent of preservice teachers agreed or strongly agreed that in general, parents from some cultures place a higher value on education than parents from other cultures.
- About 33 percent of preservice teachers agreed or strongly agreed that ELs from some ethnicities are inherently better at mathematics than ELs from other ethnicities.
Thus, even orientations established prior to in-service tenure have major implications for whether ELs within instructional spaces led by these teachers will be positioned in ways that either benefit or impede their STEM learning.
Despite promising models to strengthen how ELs are positioned in STEM classrooms, there are persistent gaps in educators’ understandings of how to partner effectively with diverse families and build on family and community-based aspects of science learning to support ELs’ school-based STEM education. Traditionally, policy and standards documents have done little to provide guidance in this matter. For example, while organizations such as the National Science Teachers Association (2009) and UNESCO (Redding, 2000) do outline roles for families in supporting children’s interests and aspirations related to STEM subjects, two important policy documents that are currently guiding the science education community in the United States, A Framework for K–12 Science Education (National Research Council, 2012) and the Next Generation Science
Standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013), have begun to acknowledge the role of families in influencing science education. Yet, families are critical in reaching global and national goals for expanding a STEM literate citizenry and a workforce that is equipped to solve challenging problems in arenas such as health, the environment, and social welfare, while also fostering economic development.
Supporting Educators in Working with Families of ELs
Recent research involving teachers and culturally and linguistically diverse families demonstrates the potential for this work to enlighten STEM education, as well as the broader field of family-school-community engagement. Studies on equipping teachers to meet the needs of ELs revealed that improved skills in working with diverse families (e.g., Zeichner et al., 2016), increased ability to reflect on personal assumptions regarding diverse families (e.g., Smith, Smith-Bonahue, and Soutullo, 2014), and a broadened view of family diversity (e.g., Johnson, 2014) were competencies required to accomplish this goal. Common across these studies was the requirement for an increase in opportunities to reflect on personal assumptions about diversity and to have authentic interactions with families from backgrounds different from one’s own. To this end, additional studies have emphasized that at least some teachers understand that their students come from diverse home cultures and recognize the need to not overgeneralize or stereotype (Lee, 2004). However, the majority of intervention-based research on family-school interactions that focused on teachers’ experiences with families are free of academic content; studies with a particular focus on STEM content continue to be scarce.
Situating the teaching of science in informal settings with diverse children and families has been shown to be an effective tool in teacher education (Ciechanowski et al., 2015; Gaitan, 2006; Harlow, 2012; Sullivan and Hatton, 2011). Bottoms and colleagues (2017) showed how Family Math and Science Nights can be used to help elementary teacher candidates to understand and value their students’ sociocultural and linguistic backgrounds. In this study, partnerships between universities and schools enabled preservice teachers to engage with families and experience firsthand bilingual communication and its power for families’ and children’s meaning-making. Through these interactions, preservice teachers shift their ideologies about the role of culture and language in schools.
Although teachers are expected to communicate effectively with families, teachers rarely have access to professional learning opportunities that support their efforts to work with families that are culturally and linguistically different from them (Upadhyay, 2009). Nieto’s (2005) reconceptualization of the notion of highly qualified teachers is one of the few
approaches focused on preparing teachers for working with the families of diverse students; it is redefined as five core features that are markedly different from the typical discourse around teacher qualifications whereby the focus is predominantly on content knowledge (e.g., Darling-Hammond, 2013). Instead, Nieto argues that highly qualified teachers are those who possess
- a sense of mission to contribute to the common good,
- solidarity and empathy for students and their families to affirm them in the classroom,
- the courage to question mainstream knowledge to support critical thinking,
- improvisation to negotiate teaching to meet their students’ needs, and
- passion for social justice to challenge the systemic inequalities that traditionally underrepresented students face in schools.
By problematizing the common definition of highly qualified teachers, when it comes to working with ELs, the most highly qualified teachers are those who focus on the formation of relationships as crucial for student learning (Nieto, 2003). Johnson and Bolshakova (2015) investigated five middle school science teachers as part of a 3-year professional development project on the role of culture in science pedagogy. Two teacher participants resisted the idea that culture was important to integrate into their science instruction; they held deep-seated views of what teaching should be, and thought their Latina/o students must conform to expectations in U.S. schools to be successful. The other three teacher participants came to see culture as a way to make students feel more welcomed and the science content more meaningful. They tried to transform their classrooms into safe and engaging places for learning, to build relationships with students, to make their content more culturally relevant, and to change their practice to be more inquiry-oriented and collaborative. These three teachers identified the following professional development experiences that enabled their shift in beliefs regarding culture: home visits, learning conversational Spanish, completing a course on culturally relevant pedagogy, and participating in professional development sessions monthly.
Buxton, Allexsaht-Snider, and Rivera (2012) showed how an instructional model that promoted both teacher and family agency supported and made visible new kinds of interactions among teachers, students, and families as they engaged in doing science together. Whereas many of the challenges that ELs and their families face are beyond teachers’ control or influence, schools do have a responsibility to work to avoid reproducing the
In the context of mathematics, Civil, Bratton, and Quintos (2005) examined immigrant caregivers’ assumptions and experiences about their children’s mathematics education as teachers and caregivers participated together in mathematics leadership development sessions to then implement workshops for the larger school district community. By shifting the hierarchical power dynamics common in teacher-caregiver relationships, the project helped teachers rethink mainstream views of caregiver involvement. The teachers found that when caregivers took on the role of facilitators of mathematics workshops for other families, they felt less inadequate.
At the heart of this work is the concept of caregivers as intellectual resources (Civil and Andrade, 2003). This view acknowledges caregivers’ experiences with and knowledge about mathematics as resources that can support the students’ school-based mathematics learning. However, Civil and Bernier (2006) discussed some of the tensions as well as opportunities that occur when caregivers act as co-facilitators of mathematics workshops and are supported in taking leadership roles. Caregivers became more familiar with the mathematics their children were learning and talked about advocating for the kinds of experiences that they thought were best for their children. They also shared their excitement to be able to talk to other caregivers about mathematics. In general, teachers were supportive of the idea of working alongside caregivers in facilitating workshops. But some teachers expressed reservations as they mentioned that they had received formal preparation as teachers while the caregivers had not. Additionally, work from Hammond (2001) examined both practicing and preservice elementary teachers engaged in a bilingual and cross-cultural professional development project at a school in California attended by students from Southeast Asian refugee families (Mien and Hmong) as well as from Central Asian, Mexican, and transient English-speaking families. Hammond found that teachers came to view caregivers as experts in traditional knowledge; however, some teachers assumed that caregivers wanted greater decision-making power at the school. On the contrary, caregivers simply wanted their traditional knowledge to be recorded and maintained.
Supporting Educators in Working with ELs’ Communities
Studies examining ELs’ communities note that teachers primarily learn to recognize the importance of drawing on students’ local communities and contexts as part of their teacher education or professional development experiences (Chval et al., 2015; Deaton et al., 2014; Lee, 2004). One study in particular examined teachers in relation to ELs’ communities and identified both strengths and limitations in their knowledge, beliefs, and practices
(Bartell et al., 2010). In this study, 200 PreK–8 preservice mathematics teachers worked on a community mathematics exploration module as part of their mathematics methods course, which was intended to support teacher participants in designing and implementing effective instruction that builds on and integrates diverse students’ mathematical knowledge bases. Researchers found that many preservice teachers entered the course with the belief that connecting to students’ mathematics funds of knowledge was a valued teaching practice; however, they had little concrete understanding of how to do so. Additionally, some preservice teachers reported avoiding certain communities because of their negative reputations. By the end, all preservice teachers were able to develop mathematics problems that built on their students’ multiple funds of knowledge, although some struggled with the mathematics involved or with knowing how to connect the community to instruction. Moreover, they came to feel more comfortable about engaging with all students’ communities and identifying community contexts as resources.
The group of researchers in TEACH MATH has carried out a research program focused on the development of preservice teachers’ ability to draw on community knowledge for mathematics instruction (Aguirre, Zavala, and Katanyoutanant, 2012; Turner et al., 2012). This multi-university project engages preservice elementary teachers in learning about the children’s community funds of knowledge. The preservice teachers design mathematics lessons grounded in their community contexts while focusing on developing students’ mathematical thinking. Turner and colleagues (2012) proposed a learning trajectory for preservice teachers that pays attention to how they make connections across different aspects of students’ mathematical learning, and in particular to how they incorporate home and community funds of knowledge.
Building on the Funds of Knowledge for Teaching Project (González, Moll, and Amanti, 2005), Civil (2002, 2007) along with her colleagues (2001, 2002) applied the main ideas of that project to mathematics teaching and learning with a group of elementary and middle school teachers in schools with a majority of students of Mexican origin. The teachers conducted ethnographic visits with an eye on the mathematical potential for further development into classroom modules (Civil and Andrade, 2002). Examples of rich mathematical modules that are contextualized in the community funds of knowledge include a garden module (Civil, 2007; Kahn and Civil, 2001) and two construction modules (Ayers et al., 2001; Civil, 2002; Sandoval-Taylor, 2005). Through this work teachers developed relationships with some families and community members as they contributed their knowledge and expertise to an academic subject such as mathematics.
Research on Mexican American caregivers’ perceptions about the teaching and learning of mathematics, with a particular focus on caregivers who went to school outside the United States and whose home language is Spanish, points to a need for schools and teachers in particular to develop an understanding of the different approaches to doing mathematics that caregivers may be sharing with their children (Acosta-Iriqui et al., 2011; Civil and Menéndez, 2011; Civil and Planas, 2010; Civil and Quintos, 2009).
Immigrant Caregivers and U.S. Language Practices
The language of instruction can also present an obstacle for caregivers when attempting to help their children with homework and to support learning more broadly. Civil and Planas (2010) reported on caregivers’ experiences when their children were in bilingual education settings, whereby the caregivers could be more engaged, could visit classrooms, and could help their children with homework. In contrast, as language policies in this context switched and limited access to bilingual education, caregivers felt an increased frustration, because they could no longer effectively help their children. Similarly, Acosta-Iriqui and colleagues (2011) reported on the impact of two different language policies (i.e., restricting bilingual education in Arizona versus promoting bilingual education in New Mexico) on caregivers’ engagement in their children’s mathematics education. In particular, caregivers in Arizona shared their frustration at how the language barrier limited how they could help their children, and also the emotional effect on their children as ELs when the instruction was restricted to English. Segregation from students who were not considered ELs was another result of the new language policy in Arizona. The impacted students as well as their caregivers expressed a desire to leave these environments as soon as possible; caregivers were particularly concerned that their children were not learning as much as they could, while the ELs were embarrassed to be in a segregated space (Civil and Menéndez, 2011). On the contrary, in New Mexico, bilingual education policies afford a continuous connection with culture and family; caregivers feel more encouraged when they understand what is being asked in the instructions for their children’s homework, and this comfort is not because they do not want to learn English (Acosta-Iriqui et al., 2011). In fact, many Latino caregivers want to learn English, but find many obstacles along the way (e.g., responsibilities around the house, work schedules, current English learning structures for adults) (Acosta-Iriqui et al., 2011).
As part of a multifaceted professional learning framework for in-service middle and high school science and English as a second language teachers working with ELs, Buxton and colleagues (2015) and Allexsaht-Snider and colleagues (2017) developed a model of “steps to college through science bilingual family workshops” that brought teachers, students, and families together as co-learners with the motto that everyone has something to learn and everyone has something to teach. Immigrant caregivers gained increased confidence in their interactions with teachers, new ideas about advocating for their children, and built stronger relationships with other likeminded caregivers. Additionally, caregivers felt more comfortable going to school and meeting with teachers who they got to know in more meaningful ways due to their shared workshop participation. For their part, ELs gained new awareness of and appreciation for the commitment that their teachers and caregivers had to their academic success, as demonstrated by attending these Saturday workshops. Students benefited from the opportunity to share their school experiences and their academic and career aspirations with their teachers and caregivers in a welcoming space, while simultaneously learning about previously unknown academic and occupational pathways in science and engineering.
The Dimensions of STEM Learning with Families
The range of ELs’ experiences with STEM learning in family contexts that we have described thus far in this chapter illustrates the idea that learning can be viewed as a “life-long, life-wide, and life-deep” endeavor (Banks et al., 2007). This model of learning represents a promising practice and a framework for engaging families in STEM education in ways that foster curiosity, creativity, and problem-solving, while also promoting ownership of STEM practices and disciplinary discourse. Family-oriented STEM learning activities can occur in school settings as well as in out-of-school free learning spaces such as museums, parks, or the communities in which families live.
Research on informal or free-choice science learning contexts points to the importance of interactive and multifaceted caregiver engagement that acknowledges families’ cultural practices. Ash (2004) has advocated for an alternative discourse around science learning within collaborative family interactions based on her investigations of dialogic inquiries among families, researchers, guides, and science exhibitions during museum and aquarium visits. Ash concluded that families engage with their children in dialogues through observing, questioning, and switching from everyday language to scientific language, practices that can also be followed in school science learning spaces. Rosebery and colleagues (2010) applied Bakhtin’s notion of heteroglossia to propose the development of science learning set-
tings that “conceptualize the heterogeneity of human cultural practices as fundamental to learning, not as a problem to be solved but as foundational in conceptualizing learning and in designing learning environments” (p. 2). As one concrete example, Tenenbaum and Callanan (2008) have conducted studies around science interactions in museums and in homes focusing on families of Mexican origin. Their findings indicate differences in style of interaction (e.g., explanatory talk) based on the caregivers’ level of schooling. Overall, out-of-school programs can provide opportunities to engage with the content in the home language(s) (something that is sometimes limited or not allowed in school); they provide extended time for practice and exploration (ELs’ instructional time in school can be limited if they are spending part of the school day learning English); and they can develop connections with family and community.
It is essential to acknowledge that all children, irrespective of their home culture and first language, arrive at school with rich knowledge and skills that have great potential as resources for STEM learning. Persistent family-school connections during K–12 schooling are essential for promoting students’ educational attainment, and this is especially true for ELs and other traditionally underrepresented student populations. Despite widespread evidence of the necessity of caregiver engagement in schooling for the well-being of children, most school-supported teacher-caregiver interactions do little to facilitate meaningful teacher engagement with the families or communities of their ELs, especially in secondary schools. Cultural, linguistic, and social differences between teachers and immigrant caregivers are the most often-cited barriers to this collaboration, despite the desire on the part of all stakeholders for better communication and more productive engagement. Although teachers are expected to communicate effectively with families of all students, teachers rarely have access to professional learning opportunities that support their efforts to work with families that are culturally and linguistically different from themselves. While promising models for better family-school engagement that supports STEM learning for families of ELs now exist, both the research base and the infrastructure to build, sustain, and disseminate such models is largely lacking.
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