With each issue, Trib+Edu brings you an interview with experts on issues related to public education. Here is this week's subject:
Patriann Smith is an assistant professor of language, diversity and literacy studies at Texas Tech University. Smith is working to find better ways to teach literacy to students who come from different cultures and languages.
Editor's note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Trib+Edu: Can you explain your work?
Patriann Smith: I focus on trying to help teachers in the United States understand a little more about how cross cultural experiences and moving across from one culture or country to another can actually help us better understand how to teach literacy to different kinds of students with different cultures and language backgrounds.
One of the things I do is look at immigrant teachers who have different language backgrounds. How is it they’re thinking about language in ways that are different and how can we push that thinking to help us better understand how to teach literacy to students who are coming to the U.S. from other countries.
Trib+Edu: What drew you to this field?
Smith: I’m originally from the Caribbean. I’m from Saint Lucia, and one of the things that happened along my professional trajectory was that I immigrated as a teacher who speaks different variations of language to the U.S.
I did a lot of my studying in the United States, but I realized that when you move from one country to another, there are so many different challenges being faced.
One of the things that I decided to do was explore that field a little further so that we can use these experiences from people who are moving across different cultures and different geographical boundaries to understand what literacy should be.
It really shouldn’t be about English literacy teaching and learning, but it needs to be about linguistic diversity and how do we approach literacy from a different perspective.
Trib+Edu: What were some of the challenges you had when you came to the United States?
Smith: One of the things that you initially face, despite the fact you speak English, sometimes you have a lot of people misunderstanding where you’re from and that your capacity is less than [theirs].
When a lot of immigrant children get to the United States, they are positioned as having a deficit despite the fact that they were doing really well in their home countries in literacy. They get to the United States, and the first thing that happens is that they are perceived as deficient or as less than [American students].
For me I had that experience, despite the fact I was really prolific in what I did. I felt like, “How many other immigrants are experiencing this?” I was very interested in how this was happening and how it plays out with not just teachers, but students and how it impacted students.
Trib+Edu: What are you currently researching within this area?
Smith: I’ve been looking, typically, at a group of Caribbean teachers, and I’ve been looking at their experiences in the United States and how moving across to the U.S. changed the way they thought about the way they spoke in the Caribbean.
They talk a lot about the fact that their language was marginalized. They talk a lot about how they marginalize a lot of their own languages here in the U.S. because of how people perceive their languages.
They talk about staying here for a while and understanding that it’s OK to use their language …
Trib+Edu: What’s your next research project?
Smith: For me, I’m starting to speak with people here in Lubbock. I’ve spoken with the principal of one our schools here in the district who’s interested in some of the cross cultural work that I would like to do in an online space.
I’ve really wanted to explore that avenue so that I can help develop students’ cross cultural understanding that help them deal with students who are immigrants. But also help immigrant students feel a little more accepted into the society of literacy instruction.
Trib+Edu: Ultimately, what do you plan to get out of your research professionally and personally?
Smith: Ultimately, my big goal is to begin to demonstrate to the field of literacy in the United States that any monolingual student here in the U.S. who has not really had an opportunity to interact cross culturally with immigrants is very marginalized and not positioned well.
I’m also trying to demonstrate that you have an advantage when you take immigrant learners and help them interact with monolingual kids and help teachers be able to tap into the lingual diversity of immigrant kids while they teach literacy.
Building bridges between immigrant students and monolingual students in the U.S. so that we can develop cross cultural understanding is one of the biggest things I’m trying to do.