An Honest Look at the
Immigrant Experience and the Educators Who Shape It
Review By Mallory Wirth
In Understanding and Improving How K-12 Multilinguals are Taught, Maryann Hasso writes of Maria, a girl from Mexico who recently moved to the United States.
“After another night of sleeping on the tiled kitchen floor, Maria went in for her first day of school,” Hasso writes in the book. “She walked into the front office, where the receptionist greeted her with words she did not understand.”
Here, Hasso sets the stage to describe the injustices and misunderstandings that multilingual students regularly face in the public school system. This exploration, well researched, takes the difficulties one might already imagine these students have, such as the simple frustration of not understanding language, or being inappropriately assessed, and shines a brighter light on them. Then it presents many other difficulties one hasn’t yet considered, such as damaging assimilationist perspectives, deficit thinking, and the white supremacy inherent in linguicism.
In order to improve educational conditions for these students, it’s important to be aware of the ways in which policy has shaped the current learning environment. School boards have historically not been interested in support structures such as professional development and translation services. This may stem from the fact that they are often out of touch with the number of multilingual students attending school in their districts. Additionally, school leaders at the board level are, more often than not, quite distant from the immigrant experience. Hasso deftly shows how some school boards’ uninformed perceptions of multilingual education manifest in the schools themselves. She calls for heightened awareness of the lack of diversity in classrooms as well as the leadership setting.
Hasso is well aware of the major struggles educators have in accurately assessing multilingual students, both upon their arrival to the new school setting and thereafter. It is almost impossible to get an accurate reading of a student’s true abilities without assessment in the student’s primary language, and her research underscores that. Far too often, students have been misplaced in classroom settings that do not reflect the student’s true abilities. Students lack the academic vocabulary necessary to be successful on state-level standardized tests.
Hasso clarifies one of the more nebulous principles of language acquisition: translanguaging. She is among the first to write about this idea in a concrete way. Translanguaging is generally defined as how multilingual students use their linguistics to interpret the world around them. Such a broad definition defies the real intention behind the use of the strategy. Here, Hasso narrows the definition by providing examples of what this might look like allowing a student to write an essay in their primary language, using additional resources such as dictionaries and technology to support translation, and modeling the use of context clues for students in both the primary and secondary languages. Suddenly the use of translanguaging as a classroom strategy feels more accessible.
Equally broad is the strategy of context-aware ubiquitous learning. Most educators are aware of this concept — it parallels the ideas of universal design for learning. Putting these ideas into action is the real challenge, and Hasso once again paints a picture of exactly what this looks like: allowing students to show what they know using the modality most readily available to them, such as drawing, writing, technology, games, and/or physical activities.
Hasso’s work originates in empathy, leads to deep comprehension of the immigrant experience, and culminates in a reservoir of impactful strategies that can be easily implemented in the classroom.
Mallory Wirth has worked in bilingual education in its various forms for 26 years. She currently serves as the executive director/principal at Dual Language Immersion North County, a small charter school in north San Diego county.