Beginning the Master’s of Arts in Education (MAED) at Michigan State University marked my rebirth as a student. Now that I face the conclusion of the degree, I look toward my next steps in education and the learning necessary to accomplish those goals. If I am lucky then my recent applications to PhD programs will be well received and I will continue my research in the fall. But it is impossible to predict admission into doctoral study at elite universities. As such I have to keep the short term in mind and plan for ways to gain the skills and knowledge necessary to excel in the field of literacy education. There’s a saying in Spanish: siempre adelante nunca para atrás. Keep advancing; never take a step back.
Part of that advance is continual learning. I’ve merely whet my appetite for teacher education and literacy, especially in terms of how it affects students for whom English is an Additional Language (EALs). EALs are a fascinating case for the wonder and plasticity of the human mind. Not only is most of the world an EAL but also learning an additional language has been shown to create novel pathways in the brain. Beyond my focus on EALs, throughout the coursework in the MAED I have explored issues in K-12 literacy education, program planning for adult learners, and the role of technology in learning. With these broad experiences I will have not shortage of knowledge veins to mine. Each of these topics intersects in both professional development for in-service professionals and inculcation of teachers in training. And both career paths require of me to pursue further expertise in language acquisition/bilingualism, embodied cognition, Latino literacy practices, and adult learning. And with this mountain of research to excavate, I will have to become the miner who keeps digging.
Numerous scholars are actively publishing research in my primary area of interest, language acquisition in EALs. Such research responds to the growing demand for teacher support in teaching EALs. I aim to not only stay abreast of best practices but also to dig deeper into the linguistic and cognitive mechanisms at play in learning another language. Dr. Harklau of the University of Georgia addresses these aspects of literacy education in her research. Her work describing the role of meta-cognition in adolescent literacy certainly drew my attention. Dr. Harklau adheres to a theory of language called systemic functional linguistics, which is a departure into an unfamiliar field for me. But I cannot allow myself to take a step back; my practical understanding of EALs will be strengthened by further theoretical understanding in linguistics.
Within the embodied cognition camp, I am particularly interested in how using tactile and visual stimuli affect transfer of learning. For instance, can writing by hand improve language acquisition and overall literacy? Does previewing scientific models bolster both content learning alongside vocabulary? These are important questions for educators who are faced with increased implementation of digital technologies. Dr. Mangen of the University of Stavange in Norway and Dr. Ryoo of the University of North Carolina are, respectively, investigating these questions. Dr. Mangen has written extensively on the possibility of better student outcomes with print reading and writing by hand. She has also studied the differences in eye-movement patterns of readers with print and digital media. Dr. Ryoo has researched the potential for improved learning for EALs through digital visualizations in conjunction with classroom learning. Following their publications will advance the line of questioning I can include in professional developments.
As much as I like exploring the unknown and the possible, my affinity for Deweyan Pragmatism will keep me based in reality. For instance, Dr. Kibler of the University of Virginia has studied Latino literacy practices, focusing on what happens outside of the classroom. She has focused on many age groups, but of most interest is her work in students who grew up as EALs and later attend Community College. This fascinating sector of the population merits the scrutiny and has particular needs. Dr. Kibler’s research will serve as a corrective for the more theoretical topics I will study. Because thought experiments rarely advance what happens in the real world, placing learning theory in dialectic with what EALs are actually reading and writing will help to bridge the gap between research and practice. And doing so will be imperative in a successful approach to professional development.
Meeting students where they are is a moving target. If educators don’t keep moving, they will effectively be taking steps backward.