BBE’s MA Students Present Research Findings at Annual IPP
by Noriko Kato
The Bilingual/Bicultural Education Program welcomed it’s students back to Teachers College this spring for the annual Integrative Project Presentations held on February 16, 2015.
The day-long procession of presentations consisted of 20 different Master’s candidates, each sectioned into five different categories including, The Learning Experiences of Non-Heritage Students, Curriculum Design and Program Development, Language, Culture and Identity, Teachers, Parents and Community, and Literacy and Classroom Practices.
Newly appointed Assistant Professor of Bilingual Education, Professor Patricia Martinez-Alvarez, orchestrated the Integrative Project, or IP, Presentations this year, ensuring that all students were required to attend. “We think it’s very important for first year students to come and see the presentations,” she said. “We want to improve education research as a result of these studies.”
The series of presentations stood out as more than the culmination of preservice teachers’ experience during their student teaching posts, but as a reflection of the current work of the program faculty in bilingual and bicultural education.
“It’s a research study. Our goal is for them to become lifelong learners, that’s the main purpose. Being teachers that are reflective, teachers that ask questions about their students and their home [realities],” she said.
The Bilingual/Bicultural Education program consists mainly of students with dual language proficiency in Spanish or Chinese, but also welcomes speakers of many other languages. Susan Hanna Wicht, a presenter whose case study was entitled, “The Flying Carpet: Experiencing Arabic Lessons in Third Grade,” was one such variation.
For Ms. Wicht, completing the program was a lifelong ambition. “When I applied to go to school when we first came to America four years ago, I only applied to one university and one program. If it wasn’t Teachers College Bilingual program — if I didn’t get in — I wasn’t going to do anything, because to me that was the program.”
In 1979, Ms. Wicht left Iraq after being employed as a translator. Teachers College Admissions called Ms. Wicht urging her to apply. “Teachers College gave me a chance and it’s like a healing process. I feel like I’ve healed a need to prove to me and to my family that I can do it,” she said. As a speaker of multiple languages and member of multiple cultures, Ms. Wicht admits to having a feeling of responsibility for bridging cultural misconceptions.
Wen Shi is another student in the program who had some cultural familiarity with her research. Ms. Shi’s presentation focused on understanding the reading process of a non-native Chinese speaking child in an English language dual program. She chose a student she met while working with PSILLT (Pedagogy of Social Imagination in Language Learning/Teaching), a three year long study carried out by the BBE program which involves an after school component in English and Chinese bilingual schools.
Ms. Shi chose to undertake research which would fill in a deficit of her own as a native speaker of Chinese: the difficulties for English speakers to learn Chinese. Her investment in this research is designed so she can bring it with her into her future classroom.
“We want all our students to graduate with experience of engaging in classroom research,” said Professor Martinez-Alvarez. “We think that we’re planting the seed so when they go through the whole cycle of research — from doing a literature review, finding a topic of interest from that literature review, asking their own questions, collecting the data, and analyzing, and then the conclusions.” She emphasized how the demanding profession of teaching leaves little room for research and reflection, and hopes that the research they do now will provide lasting support as they become teachers.
Alexa Ramos entitled her research, “Missing Out: Heritage Language Learners in Foreign Language Classrooms.” As a current middle school teacher, Ms. Ramos says she eventually wants to explore the background of promoting language learning in schools and providing authentic curriculum to heritage language learners.
“This topic for me is super important because I feel like heritage learners often miss out on learning and cultivating their language and maintaining it because the curriculum are not made for them. They’re made for new language learners, and there’s a lot of heritage language learners, especially here in New York City. So it’s something that has to be changed.” After finding inspiration from the literature review process of the research, she has already included new information into her current teaching.
Professor Martinez-Alvarez expressed hope that all teacher candidates will be lifelong learners and stay away from deficit ideas that are dominating current practices particularly with students from immigrant backgrounds.
Nori Kato is a Staff Writer and Office Assistant for the Department of Arts and Humanities. She is also an M.A. student in the International Educational Development program at Teachers College.