What Happens When You Make Space for Students’ Full Linguistic Repertoires? MAGIC.

Hello again, dear readers! I hope you are all hanging onto some shred of paz interior as we race towards winter break! I’m counting down the days until my 2 weeks of blissful, family-filled freedom, but wanted to share some of my students’ incredible work with you, and a bit on how we got here.

Last week, with permission from a student, I shared a letter she wrote on my personal Facebook timeline. Friends like you commented, asking to share it with their own students, and Alex graciously agreed. But before I share it here, let me back up just a bit and share some context.

For the past several years, I’ve worked hard to incorporate ALL of my students’ languages in our work together. One year, this included a student who spoke Hmong at home. Often, it means encouraging students to access any indigenous languages they have exposure to, even if only in bits and pieces. Of course, I also encourage students to use English where it feels authentic, while always pushing them to use their Spanish as much as they can. This year, it feels like my efforts are finally paying off. Students have hit a groove where they are communicating through translanguaging in class in ways similar to the way they do outside of class. It’s beautiful!

I recently met Dr. Itzel Reyes in a wonderful professional development course led by the phenomenal J. Eik Diggs and offered through the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater Heritage Language Education program. (If you haven’t checked out their incredible offering of PD for Heritage Language educators, I highly recommend them!) Itzel shared with us a piece she wrote about Spanglish, and I used a portion of the piece – document here – with my students.

While reading My Dearest Spanglish, I asked my students to make some annotations, in line with a school-wide initiative this year focused on annotating nonfiction texts. With the chaos of this almost-break, World Cup season, a few students missed the directions and instead wrote their own “My dearest Spanglish” letters. The unexpected letters are stunning and absolutely made my day. They speak to the importance of providing students with the space to grow their heritage language, and to build confidence in using their entire linguistic repertoire. They reminded me why I do what I do. To a friend and colleague, I simply said, “And this is why I don’t quit.”

Please take a few moments to read these powerful letters, linked and pictured below, by my students Alexandra Reyes Gavilán and Kimberly Chino Cruz. I am beyond thrilled that they have agreed to share their writing with you all, and moreover, that they had the courage to include their names to publicly claim their beautiful words.

Working with young people can be challenging, especially this time of year, but these letters really reminded me what it’s all about. My students are speaking their minds and sharing their truths within the community we have built together. And now, here, a couple of them are bravely sharing their words with you. I will gladly pass along any feedback or words of encouragement to them, so please drop your thoughts in the comments. And stay tuned, as I’ll hopefully be back soon with more student brilliance to share; we are wrapping up a poetry identity text writing unit in the next couple weeks!

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