In March 2020, communities across the US went into lockdown in attempts to slow the spread of COVID-19. Doors to schools, restaurants, shops, museums, and even children’s outdoor play spaces were closed. Although the world outside appeared to slow to a crawl, organizations — including pK-12 schools and universities — engaged in a kind rapid form of virtual worldbuilding to construct new places and spaces or new landscapes for communities to continue working, playing, reading, writing, and teaching and learning together. The locked doors offered the chance to “[re]imagine spaces for these times” (Massey, 2005, p. 13, emphasis added), and in our case, pushed us to reimagine our university reading clinic for these times and beyond.
In this article, we describe our exploration of one such virtual space, referred to by the community as Literacy-Cast, which was reimagined, built, and practiced or enacted as a collaboration among university literacy faculty members, in-service teachers at a laboratory school, graduate level teacher candidates (TCs), and children in grades K-5. Leveraging the Zoom videoconferencing platform alongside other digital tools and platforms, we (the coauthors or faculty team) led synchronous Literacy-Cast episodes, engaging an intergenerational community in digital reading, composing, making, speaking, and listening together daily for over a year. Over time, writing became a central focus of what was enacted both during and between Literacy-Cast episodes, with the community composing over 1,000 digital multimodal books.
With layered and expansive opportunities for modeling, mentoring, and even coteaching, as teacher educators we were particularly interested in the ways the Literacy-Cast space offered TCs participatory, experientially based professional development that disrupted the traditional “curricular line of demarcation between ‘field experience’ and university coursework” (Cuenca, 2020, para. 6) in relation to writing instruction. Calls have been made for greater attention to writing in teacher preparation programs for many years (Myers et al., 2016), with the specific need for “effective clinical models” that leverage technology to “help bridge the traditional school and university divide” (Morgan & Pytash, 2014, p. 29). We see Literacy-Cast as one such virtual bridge — a particular kind of “performative infrastructure” (Gillespie, 2010; Thrift, 2005) — that also addresses the surprising absence of the use of digital tools for writing or writing instruction in schools (Coker et al., 2016; Graham, 2019).
As the cofacilitators of Literacy-Cast, we situate our larger work in and with this performative infrastructure as a form of teacher action research (Pine, 2008). We were interested in examining the ways Literacy-Cast has allowed for multidirectional flows of mentorship for, with, and by TCs. Using case study methodology (Merriam, 1998; Stake, 1995), we centered one TC’s engagement and experiences with Literacy-Cast across time to identify the flow(s) of mentorship that helped transform the community’s engagement as writers and writing teachers committed to culturally sustaining writing pedagogy. This particular TC, Liliana, joined us as a coauthor in this article, just as she joined as a coconstructor of the virtual performative infrastructure.
Preparing Teachers to Teach Writing
Nearly two decades ago, the National Commission on Writing (2003) wrote persuasively about writing as the “neglected ‘R’”: “Although many models of effective ways to teach writing exist, both the teaching and practice of writing are increasingly shortchanged throughout the school and college years” (p. 3). They made clear recommendations, which included requiring TCs to take courses in how to teach writing.
Despite this call to action, Graham’s (2019) recent review of research suggested that “writing is [still] a neglected skill” in the pK-12 classroom as well as in university-based teacher preparation programs. Across the range of issues raised in Graham’s review, of particular interest for teacher preparation programs is the overwhelming number of in-service teachers who reported feeling less prepared to teach writing than any other subject area. This issue of teachers feeling less prepared is multifaceted. In accounting only for coursework, however, Brindle et al.’s (2016) survey research found that only 17% of teachers reported taking at least one course specific to writing instruction, and only 20% of teachers reported teaching writing as part of classroom-based fieldwork.
In teacher preparation programs where coursework devoted to writing instruction is required, fieldwork has emerged as a particularly thorny issue. With writing taking a backseat in pK-12 classrooms for decades now, TCs often get few opportunities in their fieldwork to coteach or even observe writing instruction in and with communities of children. TCs can miss out on the kinds of rich “active mentoring” (Zeichner, 2002, p. 59) experiences that are critical to the development of novice teachers.
Alternatively, when TCs do find themselves in fieldwork contexts where writing instruction occurs regularly, they may experience a divide between instructional approaches taught in university-based methods courses and writing instruction implemented at the pK-12 level (Zeichner, 2010). In these cases, TCs must negotiate complex tensions between competing pedagogical orientations to writing or literacy more broadly (Ivanic, 2004), with the realities and pressures of fieldwork often taking precedence over the theories and pedagogical approaches learned about in coursework (Moore, 2003).
Ultimately, teacher preparation programs face a two-pronged challenge in developing efficacious writing teachers: (a) designing coursework that attends specifically to developing knowledge about writing development, a vision and pedagogical orientation for writing instruction, and professional commitment, and (b) developing classroom-based clinical experiences where TCs can observe instruction, participate in communities with children, and practice teaching or coteaching writing with veteran teachers.
Though these are not new challenges, new opportunities exist to consider ways that technology might play a more “fundamental role in teaching [TCs] how to teach writing” (Morgan & Pytash, 2016, p. 19), particularly in relation to creating new kinds of virtual communities for faculty, TCs, in-service teachers, and children to become writers — and writing teachers — together.
Theoretical Framing: Orientations to Teaching Writing
Beyond simply requiring a writing methods course, important work is yet to be done in looking critically at which discourses and pedagogies are leveraged in teacher preparation programs and pK-12 schools to frame what is meant by the phrase writing and learning to write(Ivanic, 2004). Discussions about writing are always undergirded by particular theories and practices that frame what counts as writing, who gets to be a writer, and what teachers see in children’s writing. At its core, these questions about writing are tied to views of literacy more broadly: Is literacy a set of decontextualized skills located in the head of an individual, or is literacy a set of social practices that are culturally situated and ideologically constructed (Street, 1984)?
When writing is taught in pK-12 schools, the most prevalent — or at least most recognizable — framing is that of a skills discourse (Wohlwend, 2009), whereby learning to write consists of children applying knowledge of sound–symbol relationships to construct grammatically acceptable texts in Dominant American English (DAE). Notably, this framing disregards writing as (a) a purpose-driven communication within a meaningful social context or community; (b) inclusive of modes of expression beyond alphabetic text (in DAE), including aural, linguistic, visual, spatial, gestural, and haptic; and (c) a sociopolitically constructed practice that is inherently linked to issues of language, identity, culture, and power.
Critically important calls have been made over the last decade to move away from this skills discourse approach by reframing writing within a culturally sustaining literacy pedagogy (e.g., Behizedah, 2017; Paris & Alim, 2017; Zoch, 2015) and even more specifically within a culturally sustaining writing pedagogy (Woodard et al., 2017). Importantly, in this article we use the term culturally sustaining rather than culturally relevant or culturally responsive pedagogy (Alim, 2007; Ladson-Billing, 1995).
Although these terms are inherently interconnected, Paris (2012) has argued the terms “responsive” and “relevant” do not go far enough in outlining that a central aim of literacy instruction in pK-12 schools must be to “maintain heritage ways and to value cultural and linguistic sharing across difference, [and] to sustain and support bi- and multilingualism” (p. 93). Therefore, the term sustaining better describes the aim of writing instruction as supporting children in continuing to use their language(s) and cultural repertoires of practice as they compose for and across communities that are meaningful to them.
Fostering linguistic and cultural dexterity and plurality as part of culturally sustaining writing pedagogy can be further deepened by teachers taking up a critical translingual pedagogical orientation (Canagarajah, 2013b; see also Lu & Horner, 2013; Seltzer, 2019; Zapata, 2020). A translingual orientation
emphasizes the attitudes and perspectives that need to be cultivated toward cross-language relations in literacy. For teachers, it encourages a way of looking at the implications for writing and teaching from an awareness that languages [and semiotic modes] are always in contact and complement each other in communication. (Canagarajah, 2013a, p. 4, emphasis added)
This notion of cross-language relations in literacy is at the heart of this approach. Rather than see language difference as a barrier to children’s written communication, a translingual orientation views languages as tools or resources that children bring into the composing and writing process.
Theories of translanguaging (Garcıa & Wei, 2014; Garcia et al., 2016) and code-meshing (Canagarajah, 2013a; Lee & Handsfield, 2018) disrupt standardizing mythologies around DAE. What would be viewed as writing and language “mistakes” that need to be fixed within a skills discourse of writing (e.g., the meshing together of English and Spanish in a single piece of writing), are viewed as a complex, fluid set of language decisions, practices, and intentions that mirror the authentic ways that children, families, and communities communicate for a range of purposes outside of school.
In taking an asset orientation to children’s written communication, language practices are seen as the complex integration and meshing of “national languages, linguistic varieties, registers, dialects, vernaculars, [and] regionalisms” (Zapata & Lahman, 2016, p. 367). In this way, translingualism — and culturally sustaining writing pedagogy more broadly — are not simply applicable for teachers who work with bilingual students. Translingualism starts with the understanding that all students would benefit from increased linguistic flexibility as part of literacy instruction, including those in English-medium classrooms whose uses of English have been marginalized (e.g., African American Language (AAL; see Baker-Bell, 2020)). Children’s diverse language practices and cultural repertoires are always flowing in and through classroom spaces, with Garcia et al. (2016) offering the metaphor of a river current
… that you can’t always see or feel, but that is always present, always moving, and always responsible for changes in the landscape. Sometimes, the translanguaging corriente flows gently under the surface…. At other times, the translanguaging corriente is much stronger. (p. 4, emphasis added).
Using this metaphor, even in classrooms where DAE is the majority language of instruction, children are always making sense of new languages and concepts through what they already know in their own language or languages. Thus, while the translanguaging corriente may be less visible in some contexts or classrooms, it is always flowing just below the surface.
As part of the translanguaging corriente, children’s meshing of languages and dialects is fluid and emergent, as well as socially situated and ideologically constructed, disrupting reified dichotomies like home and school languages (Seltzer, 2019). Through shifts in stance and pedagogy, teachers’ can center and sustain the dynamic, fluid language practices of students, potentially transforming the community itself (i.e., the landscape). By taking up a stance to teaching writing that helps children learn to write using “their full communicative repertoires, using language, symbols, and images to convey their messages” (Machado & Hartman, 2020, p. 2), teachers can strengthen the translanguaging corriente of the classroom as a resource for all children.
With this definition of writing in mind, teacher preparation programs must reconsider how to better prepare TCs who understand, who value, and who can enact translanguaging pedagogies as a central part of enacting a culturally sustaining approach to writing instruction. Machado and Gonzales’s (2020) work addressed this question by redesigning writing methods coursework (e.g., encouraging translanguaging across all assignments) in ways that facilitated TCs planning for and enacting translingual pedagogy with children during student teaching.
In the study reported here, we also took up this challenge of preparing TCs but with a focus on redesigning and reimagining fieldwork as a more effective clinical model. Within the fully virtual spaces of Literacy-Cast, coconstructed by and with a multigenerational community of faculty members, TCs, in-service teachers, and children, we asked the following questions:
- How does the virtual performative infrastructure of Literacy-Cast channel multidirectional flows of mentorship that nurtured the community’s enactment of culturally sustaining writing pedagogy?
- In what ways does a TC leveraging the translanguaging corriente transform a virtual community of writers and writing teachers?
Literacy-Cast as a Coconstructed Landscape for and With a New Community
Literacy-Cast began and continues as a virtual space for K-5 literacy engagement facilitated by a faculty team at Appalachian State University (Ward et al., 2020). Since the onset of COVID-19, this virtual space has been enacted 4 to 5 days a week for over a year, with as few as 30 to as many as 250 participants logging in to coconstruct a multigenerational reading and writing community.
Initially, it was conceived of as a means to relocate the campus-based Anderson Reading Clinic to a virtual space, but ultimately Literacy-Cast grew into something far larger. Literacy-Cast became a space where the university community (faculty members and graduate students/TCs), the K-5 laboratory school community (in-service teachers, staff, administrators, and children), and even local community members could gather together during particularly challenging and confusing times. It was open to children across grade levels, reading and writing abilities, and geographic location, as well as educators — both in-service teachers and TCs — with varying levels of experience, expertise, and knowledge. Each 60- to 75-minute synchronous Literacy-Cast episode included opportunities to read, write, speak, listen, and make in community with others each day.
From its inception, Literacy-Cast used the Zoom video conferencing platform to provide space for all participants to engage and coconstruct meaning. Video conferencing platforms like Zoom are one of the main tools or platforms that educators at all levels turned to for designing and redesigning new virtual landscapes for teaching, learning, reading, and writing due the closing of physical buildings.
Eschewing metaphors that frame these new virtual spaces as immaterial containers that hold people, we turn to Massey (2005) to conceptualize the virtual spaces of Literacy-Cast as relations of embedded practices constituted through interactions. The faculty team quickly realized that additional digital tools were needed alongside Zoom to make literacy practices enacted at home more visible to the community, as well as to sustain interactions outside of each synchronous episode. In response, technologies including Padlet, Seesaw, Jamboards, and Book Creator (https://bookcreator.com/) were layered in, allowing participants of all ages to engage in composing, coauthoring, creating, making, and sharing across space and time.
We have come to view Literacy-Cast’s collection of virtual tools and platforms as creating a kind of “performative infrastructure” (Gillespie, 2010; Thrift, 2005), designed not to hold or contain people and objects but to channel and capture particular flows — in this case composing across modes, media, and languages. Digital technologies are not simply neutral ways of doing teaching and learning (or teacher preparation) in ways that replicate face-to-face interactions. They “become mediating agents in their own right that not only facilitated processes of sensemaking but also shaped the performance of social acts” (Thorndahl & Frandsen, 2020, p. 1). Because we situated teaching, learning, reading, and writing as inherently social acts, the performative infrastructure of Literacy-Cast reshaped understandings of what teaching writing — and teaching TCs to teach writing — might look like.
Positionality and Relationality: People and Institutions as Coconstructors
As of this writing, Literacy-Cast had been enacted virtually for over a year (157 episodes), with hundreds of in-service teachers and TCs, graduate and undergraduate students, and children coconstructing the virtual Literacy-Cast space through their interactions over that time. Literacy-Cast represents a significant partnership between communities at both Appalachian State University and its K-5 laboratory (“lab”) school, located over 90 miles from campus. Due to this partnership, the Literacy-Cast model or structure continually adapted from spring 2020 to spring 2021 as children and in-service teachers moved from fully virtual to various hybrid models to fully face-to-face instruction. Table 1 provides an overview of the communities involved in coconstructing this intergenerational space over time. Numbers are estimates given the fluid, open, and invitational nature of the virtual space.
Table 1 Overview of the Literacy-Cast Community Over Time
|Semester||Key Communities Coconstructing Literacy-Cast|
|Lab School In-Service Teachers [estimates]||Children in Grades K-5|
|Jason, Devery, & Beth F w/ “Poet in Residence”||15-20||30-50||20-25 observed/ participated at least once over the semester; 3-5 attended most days|
|Jason, Devery, Beth F, & Beth B||5-10||~30||~20 attended each day|
|Jason & Devery||10 graduate student coaches who were also in-service teachers||~30||~20 attended each day|
|Jason, Devery, Beth F, & Beth B||15-20||100-200+||10-15 observed/ participated at least once over the semester; 3-5 attended most days|
|Jason, Devery, Beth F, & Beth B||15-20||30-200+||15-20 observed/ participated at least once over the semester; 3-5 attended most days|
The Faculty Team
Throughout this paper, both the pronoun “we” and the term “faculty team” are used to denote collaborative work and decision-making shared between the four faculty member authors. When referring to the specific actions or talk of an individual coauthor, first names are used (Beth B, Jason, Beth F, and Devery). As the faculty team, we are four white, cisgender, English-speaking literacy teacher educators in Reading Education at Appalachian State University. We have a range of familiarity and training with languages besides English, including Spanish, French, and German, though no one considered themselves fluent at the time the research was conducted. Collectively, our diverse range of general education and special education pK-12 English-medium classroom experiences, as well as clinical and research experiences, influenced our collaborative work coconstructing and facilitating Literacy-Cast.
The Focal TC: Liliana
Liliana was selected as the focal TC case for this paper because she (a) identified being bilingual as “an important part of her life,” (b) took up course-based and Literacy-Cast writing invitations according to her identities and language practices, including translanguaging, in diverse ways, and (c) represented our graduate students/TCs who are primarily focused on teaching writing in English-medium K-5 classrooms. Liliana’s willingness to take up invitations and explore composing across languages illustrated her dual role as mentee of and mentor to the faculty team. Her pedagogical decisions were instrumental in shaping how Literacy-Cast has evolved over time.
All members of the faculty team worked with Liliana as part of at least one graduate course from summer 2019 to summer 2020. Due to her acceptance in the Accelerated Admissions program, Liliana began working toward her graduate degree in Reading Education as an undergraduate student and, as a full-time student, completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees and certification within 15 months of each other. Liliana, like the majority of the students in our program, was a TC during all her graduate coursework. The biosketch that follows offers additional context and was written by Liliana:
Liliana Martinez is currently a third- and fourth-grade classroom teacher at the laboratory school in Forsyth County, North Carolina. She graduated from Appalachian State University with a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education and a master’s degree in Reading Education, with a certificate in Teaching Emergent Bilingual Populations in Content Areas. She values community building, translanguaging, and developing rapport with her students, her students’ families, and colleagues. She grew up learning Spanish and began learning English in elementary school. Her experiences have shaped how she understands and approaches language, culture, reading, and writing in the classroom.
Methodology and Data Generation
We situated our ongoing work with Literacy-Cast within the paradigm of action research (Stringer, 1999), which “studies a problematic situation in an ongoing systematic and recursive way to take action to change that situation” (Pine, 2008, p. 30). In this case, the initial problematic situation was the rapid spread of COVID-19, which forced pK-16 schools and our reading clinic to close their doors. In an instant, elaborate plans for the semester and year were erased. Literacy-Cast emerged in mid-March as a way for the faculty team to begin exploring, alongside children, families, in-service teachers, and TCs what engaging in and with writing together in these new times might mean. Countless mistakes were made (and continue to be) — from technology to pedagogy — but the daily nature of Literacy-Cast has allowed us to engage in a “sustained, intentional, recursive, and dynamic process of inquiry” (Pine, 2008, p. 30), where we are both practitioners and researchers.
Within this paradigm of action research, case study methodology allows us to construct cases of TCs’ engagement and experiences as literacy educators across time within the Literacy-Cast infrastructure. Here, we offer illustrative snapshots from one of these case studies with Liliana. Across the year-long timeline of Liliana’s case study (spring 2020 to spring 2021), we used tools from virtual ethnography (Hine, 2017) to engage in fieldwork as an “immersive form of research focused on knowing through close and sustained proximity and interaction” (p. 22) across virtual platforms and spaces. As part of the action research cycle, we positioned ourselves in a range of ways in relation to Liliana across time, from full observers to full participants, taking on varying roles as Liliana’s professors and instructors, coteachers, mentors, mentees, and observers.
Data were generated by Liliana and the faculty team and included a range of multimodal digital artifacts composed by Liliana (e.g., social media posts, poems, email exchanges, compositions, digital books, and Google Slides), video recordings and chat records of virtual coteaching sessions during Literary-Cast episodes, individual and focus group interviews that were video recorded and transcribed, and faculty fieldnotes. Table 2 offers an overview of Liliana’s case study of engagement with Literacy-Cast from spring 2020 to spring 2021.
Table 2 Liliana’s Case Study: Engagement in and With Literacy-Cast From Spring 2020-Spring 2021
|Semester||Graduate Course Connection||Overview of Liliana’s|
Teaching the Language Arts
Faculty Instructor for Course:
|In Spring 2020, Liliana began observing and participating in Literacy-Cast episodes as part of an invitation extended to all graduate students enrolled in the course “Teaching the Language Arts”. Based on personal writing developed in this course, and at the invitation of the faculty team, Liliana developed and co-taught two Literacy-Cast episodes.|
|Graduate Course: |
Practicum in the Clinical Teaching of Reading
Faculty Instructor for course:
[w/ support from Devery]
|In Summer 2020, the graduate “Practicum in Clinical Teaching of Reading” was reimagined as part of a continuation of Literacy-Cast. Liliana and her fellow graduate students participated in and co-taught Literacy-Cast sessions/episodes four times a week throughout June and July as well as engaging in additional course meetings and assignments. Whole-group Literacy-Cast sessions, led by members of the faculty team, were followed by 30-minute sessions within small group breakout rooms to provide for additional layers of instruction and interaction between graduate students/TCs and children. Additionally, in the afternoons twice a week, graduate student/TC dyads engaged in virtual tutoring sessions with individual children/tutees.|
|-||In Fall 2020, Liliana was hired as a 3rd/4th grade teacher at the lab school. The lab school was fully virtual until November 2020, and Liliana and other in-service teachers and students at the lab school engaged in/with Literacy-Cast episodes multiple days a week. The number of days shifted as school moved from fully virtual to a hybrid model.|
|Spring 2021||-||In Spring 2020, Liliana continued as a 3rd/4th grade teacher at the lab school. The lab school eventually moved to face-to-face instruction four days a week. On the one virtual day of instruction each week, Liliana, other in-service teachers at the school, and children continued to join Literacy-Cast episodes. Children who chose to remain fully virtual attended Literacy-Cast four days a week.|
Although the faculty team experienced the simultaneity of data collection and analysis within the action research paradigm, within the case study, our aim was to center the voices, perspectives, and experiences of Liliana. To serve this purpose, two semistructured interviews were designed to engage Liliana in telling stories in relation to key digital artifacts, eliciting the experiences of enacting culturally sustaining writing pedagogy in the virtual performative infrastructure. Though the aim was to center Liliana’s experiences as a TC, because the faculty team experienced most of these stories alongside Liliana we were able to probe for deeper layers or aspects of the experience, as well as coconstruct stories and meaning when opportunities arose.
Analysis of the data involved close readings and rereadings of Liliana’s stories and artifacts to look for evidence of mentoring connected to and with her enactment of cultural sustaining writing pedagogy, understanding her experiences as complex, multilayered, and nuanced (as recommended in Clandinin & Connelly, 2000). Ultimately, through recursive coding of the data, we noted the central role of Liliana’s translanguaging performances (and translanguaging pedagogies) as part of her engagement in and with virtual performative infrastructure.
We iteratively returned to digital texts that Liliana created, as well as those that were created at around the same time and in her work with particular students, to examine the ways that multilingual practices occurred. Furthermore, the faculty team met often throughout the course of the Literacy-Cast project and subsequent analysis to debrief and discuss what was occurring. In our analysis of the community’s interactions around these translanguaging performances, using video recordings and transcripts of episodes, email responses, chat records, and focus group interviews, we identified rich, layered stories of mentoring — flowing both to and from Liliana as a member of the Literacy-Cast community.
Findings suggest the virtual performative infrastructure of Literacy-Cast channeled the flow of multidirectional mentorship within and across multigenerational community members. In university-based methods courses, faculty members are most often positioned as mentors for supporting TCs’ pedagogical growth. Even within this more-expected form of mentorship, Liliana highlighted the unusual opportunities provided by Literacy-Cast:
It was very interesting to watch my professors teach, because I don’t think that we get to see that a lot — to see how they teach children specifically, because we’re in classes and we see them talk to us about how we should teach, but we never really see them teach children. And I thought that was really interesting because I was able to observe and see, you know, what are some of the things that they do in their classroom, even though it was like an online environment. (June 5, 2020)
The difference for Liliana, made possible through the virtual infrastructure, was moving from simply hearing faculty members talk about how to teach to watching them (and in-service teachers) interact with and use language in community with young writers.
While we see these kind of mentorship opportunities between TCs and faculty members in virtual communities as significant, the findings show a much more complex portrait of mentorship emerged within and across the performative infrastructure of Literacy-Cast. In TCs learning to enact culturally sustaining writing pedagogy, our analysis identified three additional flows of multidirectional mentorship that were critical: (a) mentorship between TCs and in-service teachers; (b) mentorship between TCs and faculty members; and (c) and mentorship between families/caregivers and TCs.
Importantly, these flows were multidirectional, but the illustrative snapshots provided in the following section focus on interactions that disrupted more top-down ways of framing the mentoring of TCs in methods courses, whereby expertise and knowledge is assumed to flow from universities and faculty members to K-12 schools and in-service teachers to TCs to children/students to families/caregivers at home. The choice to center Liliana’s interactions in these snapshots offers readers a way to better understand how her translanguaging performances (and pedagogy) made the translanguaging corriente of Literacy-Cast stronger, ultimately helping transform the community’s engagement as writers and writing teachers committed to culturally sustaining writing pedagogies.
Flow 1: Multidirectional Mentorship Between TCs and In-Service Teachers
The virtual performative infrastructure of Literacy-Cast channeled the multidirectional flow of mentorship between TCs like Liliana and in-service teachers. In more traditionally structured writing methods courses, TCs engage in coursework with faculty members and then go off into K-12 schools for fieldwork with the mentorship of an in-service teacher. A challenge of this model is that TCs and in-service teachers can have different stances or discourses of writing and learning to write (Ivanic, 2004; Wohlwend, 2009). TCs are left to make tough choices between taking up pedagogical approaches from coursework and those at work in the classroom community where they have been placed.
In this structure of fieldwork, both TCs and in-service teachers can feel a disconnect or gap between the university and K-12 classroom. Alternatively, the performative infrastructure of Literacy-Cast channeled mentorship opportunities for in-service teachers and TCs to learn alongside and in community with faculty members and children, ultimately supporting their collective growth and understanding of culturally sustaining writing pedagogies.
By late March 2020, our TCs had scattered around the state with plans to wait out COVID-19 lockdowns with friends and family. As part of taking the Teaching the Language Arts course, graduate students received an open invitation to begin attending Literacy-Cast episodes each morning. Many took up this invitation to join a virtual community of faculty, in-service teachers, and children, engaging in a variety of ways: some periodically observing or lurking, others actively participating in literacy invitations alongside children and in-service teachers, and a few even taking up opportunities to coteach episodes alongside faculty members.
Liliana was one of the TCs to accept an invitation to coteach, collaborating closely with members of the faculty team to develop a writing lesson designed around using her original, deeply personal book spine poem as a mentor text:
Found poem by Liliana
Brown Girl Dreaming.
Learning A New Land.
The Day You Begin
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
“Where Are You From?”
“Can I Touch Your Hair?”
“Leave Me Alone!”
I Am Perfectly Designed,
More Than Enough,
The Proudest Blue,
Dreams From Many Rivers,
In this poem, anchored by the title and last line of esperanza/hope, Liliana created a translingual text in which she foregrounded sociopolitical issues by carefully curating children’s and young adult books that disrupt dominant discourses. The poem was originally developed and posted a few weeks earlier to a Facebook group with fellow graduate students/TCs and faculty members (Figure 1).
Figure 1 Liliana’s Book Spine Poem (“Esperanza”) Posted to Facebook
As a faculty team who valued and aimed to cultivate a culturally sustaining writing pedagogy, we saw the ways in which Liliana’s poem would expand the social and linguistic resources of the Literacy-Cast community while centering personal writing as a way to problematize the dominant culture (Woodard et al., 2017). After accepting an invitation to coteach, Beth F. worked closely with Liliana to design an instructional sequence for leading Literacy-Cast centered around this poem, meeting on Zoom as well as collaborating through digital tools, refining practice asynchronously online by tagging one another in comments and freely adding images, text, and speaker notes.
Liliana’s coteaching during Literacy-Cast was, to borrow words that some of the 70 members of the community chatted that day, “mesmerizing,” “amazing,” “creative,” “talented,” and “inspirational.” The audience/community that day included five faculty members, 15 in-service teachers/specialists, five graduate students, and around 50 children (numbers are estimates based on data available).
Liliana began the lesson/episode by sharing a photograph of her book spine poem (Figure 2). As she read her poem aloud, beginning and ending in Spanish, she lifted the words from the page and breathed further life into them. Liliana then invited participants to lean into her poem by asking, “What do you notice?” She led the Literacy-Cast in a discussion of how she found her poem, drawing inspiration from her experiences growing up and sharing books from her own textual lineage (Tatum, 2009). Her process for composing the poem included meshing personal experiences, text, and quotes with “writing from the heart” in order to create “powerful poetry.”
Figure 2 One of the Electronic Slides Liliana Used to Coteach Literacy-Cast
In the latter part of the lesson, Liliana shared booktalks for five of the books in the poem that she felt would most resonate with children (Figure 3), weaving together the stories of the books alongside her own personal experiences. She used intentional language that invited the community to find their own way into these stories, as well as modeling how writers might find themselves in the books on their own shelves.
Figure 3 Liliana’s Electronic Slide Used During Literacy-Cast to Spotlight Five Focal Books From Her Poem
Independently, each book spine served as a mirror for Liliana, reflecting some aspect of her identity back to her (as in Bishop, 1990). For example, when booktalking Where Are You From? (Méndez & Kim, 2020), Liliana shared how personal this question was to her:
Personally, I got the “Where are you from?” question a lot, and I think, actually, recent to this poem, I was actually asked, “Where are you from? Where are your parents from?” And it’s honestly a very sensitive question and it’s hard to answer. Personally, if I’m just meeting you for the first time, you know, it’s not something that I want to reveal immediately, if at all. (February 17, 2021)
Collectively, the titles served as inspiration, acts of resistance, and sources for hope and healing that normalized minoritized language speakers’ richly diverse experiences (Espana & Herrera, 2020). At the close of the lesson (and later as part of a second lesson), Liliana extended an invitation for the Literacy-Cast community — faculty members, in-service teachers, and children — to compose and share their own book spine poems using physical books at home or a digital library she cocurated (see https://padlet-uploads.storage.googleapis.com/8209589/2145a08cc1db3305c91035fcb6433fea/Book_Spine_Poetry_.pdf).
The in-service teachers in attendance that day actively engaged with Liliana both during and after the episode. Noticeably, their stance was not one of evaluating Liliana’s teaching, as many in-service teachers are positioned to do in relation to observing TCs, but of learning with and alongside Liliana and the rest of the community. For example, while Liliana was coteaching, in-service teachers used the Zoom chat to support and interact with her in a variety of ways by (a) asking questions (e.g., “Why did you use quotes on some [lines] and not on others?”); (b) responding to a question posed by Liliana (e.g., “Found poetry is when you take existing texts and reorder them, and present them as a poem.”); (c) expressing appreciation (e.g., “Thanks Ms. Martinez for sharing and inspiring us !!”); (d) offering compliments (e.g., “I am mesmerized by your poem!”; “Magnificent booktalk[s], you inspire me to read some of the books to my students!!!”), and (d) calling attention to translanguaging (e.g., “Spanish books!”; “Great use of Spanish and English”). This kind engagement and support offered by in-service teachers while Liliana taught highlights how the Zoom chat allowed this kind of interaction to flow in real time rather than being saved for the TC to hear or read after a lesson had ended.
In-service teachers’ engagement with Liliana continued even after the lesson was over. A few minutes after the episode ended, Ms. D, an upper grades in-service teacher with many years of teaching experience, sent an email expressing her enthusiasm for Liliana’s lesson: “Today’s Zoom was awesome!!! Can you please share today’s recording with me? I would like to go back and listen to it again. I would love to implement this in my teaching!! Thanks so much!”
This email signaled a clear shift in the flow of mentorship between in-service teachers and TCs, with a veteran in-service teacher asking to rewatch the video in order to further her own professional development as a literacy/writing teacher. This interaction positioned the TC as an expert with valuable pedagogical knowledge to share, rather than playing a secondary role in enacting another teacher’s preconceived notion of what the instructional moment might look like. This dynamic of teacher/expert and learner continued throughout Liliana’s interaction with the Literacy-Cast project.
In reflecting on the experience of being a part of the Literacy-Cast community, many in-service teachers highlighted that it was not just a space and time for children to learn — it was a space for them to learn too. When asked what Literacy-Cast moments were most memorable over the course of spring 2020, Ms. M, a specialist at the school and fellow multilingual speaker/writer, identified Liliana’s lesson, specifically, from the over 30 episodes she attended:
I learned a lot with the graduate students…. I think the one that stands out most was the book [spine] poetry…. Ms. Martinez did such a great job!… I just loved that. I don’t know if it’s because I like books or the way she taught it, but I really liked that. (June 5, 2020)
Ms. M’s language here is useful in understanding how in-service teachers conceptualized and experienced the flow of mentorship: “learning with the graduate students.” In this virtual community, TCs like Liliana were positioned as teachers with expertise to share — in terms of the social, cultural, and linguistic resources they brought to the community as well as pedagogically. This flow of mentorship between TCs and in-service teachers occurred as a result of the presence of the invitation, the value the community placed on translingual literacy development, and the willingness of the TC to engage in instruction in a space that included multiage participants.
When thinking about the multigenerational and layered nature of Literacy-Cast, Ms. G, an upper elementary grade in-service teacher, described the ways the performative infrastructure allowed for a “mass coteaching world” to emerge:
[There was an] opportunity for these graduate students who were coming in, and it was almost a professional development for the rest of the teachers who maybe weren’t ready to [lead a Literacy-Cast episode] but were watching and learning from the strategies that were being used. (June 5, 2020)
The multidirectional flow of mentorship was made possible by being in a community where in-service teachers like Ms. D, Ms. M, and Ms. G could watch and learn alongside faculty members, graduate students, and children, allowing a different kind of professional development experience to emerge.
Flow 2: Multidirectional Mentorship Between TCs and Faculty Members
Liliana’s initial book spine teaching example was instrumental for the faculty team in terms of thinking about what could be possible in the Literacy-Cast, beyond developing our technological skills in Zoom and including topics and materials for engaging the children in our audience. The multidirectional flow of mentorship experienced by members of the virtual learning community in spring 2020 flowed into the summer based on continued invitations from faculty members, Liliana’s ongoing willingness to accept these invitations, and the shared value for translingual composing.
During the summer version of Literacy-Cast, reimagined as part of the Practicum in the Clinical Teaching of Reading course, graduate students/TCs were invited to help faculty coteach or facilitate parts of the whole-group episodes, with poetry offered as one potential option. Later that day, Liliana emailed members of the faculty team:
This is such an exciting idea! I am definitely interested in helping out. Would it be okay if I wrote the poem instead of finding one online? In this way, if there is anything that you are looking for in the poetry, I can include it. I’m also open to finding one online if we want to expose? students to a bilingual poet. Please let me know what you think would be best. (July 8, 2020)
In this short email, Liliana acted with affirmation, agency, and discernment as she communicated from an insider’s perspective. Harnessing her lived experiences from the spring’s Literacy-Cast, she eagerly took up the work of a culturally sustaining writing teacher with demonstrated expertise in writing and teaching poetry, especially poetry that converses across languages. Rather than share an existing poetic work, Liliana created and shared the two-voice poem Sharks/Los Tiburones (see Figure 4 and Audio 1) for Literacy-Cast, moving back and forth between English and Spanish and, again, drawing on the capacity for positioning herself as a translingual writer and teacher.
Figure 4 Liliana’s Two-Voice Bilingual Sharks/Los Tiburones Poem
Audio 1 Liliana’s Two-Voice Bilingual Sharks/Los Tiburones
In her translingual poem, Liliana wrote a description of sharks from two perspectives, in which she complicated and problematized the shark’s identity (see Figure 4). In the first voice (left column), she drew on the stereotypical notion of sharks as dangerous creatures. In the second voice (right column), she described sharks in Spanish, bringing to light their more tranquil qualities and countering the view shared in the first column and, at the same time, centering the use of Spanish.
Liliana recounted in an interview. “I wrote this because I was inspired by Noelia’s [a child in Literacy-Cast’s] love for sharks. I made it a two-voice bilingual poem, because I knew that [the child] and I shared knowing English and Spanish, being bilingual.” The poem was, in a sense, written for Noelia, the rising fourth grader from Literacy-Cast that Liliana worked with in the afternoons. In composing and sharing it with the whole group, Liliana recognized that this child would be able to see her passions (sharks) and her linguistic resources (being multilingual) celebrated by the entire community.
When coteaching using the poem Sharks/Los Tiburones with the Literacy-Cast community a few days later, the faculty team and Liliana took up different roles: Liliana was the writer/poet/teacher and the language expert, while faculty members were language learners. Jason began by reintroducing his coteacher to the Literacy-Cast community: “Ms. Martinez is such a poet. She has all the skills. And we saw this in the spring too, so we’re glad to have her back.” He then invited Liliana and a fellow graduate student/TC to read aloud the poem for the group (Audio 1) The community celebrated this performance with a round of poet snaps, or finger snapping as applause, a common practice at poetry readings/slams. Liliana explained that her inspiration for composing this poem was that by
creating a bilingual poem, you can have two voices… . You can have a Spanish and an English voice that you can use in your poetry, and that really helped me. Originally this was going to be two stanzas, but I think it works better this way.
Here, she made explicit her stance that two languages make a piece of writing stronger, and though she never used the word translanguaging, her poem modeled for the community how writers can cohesively and intentionally weave languages together to make writing even more beautiful, more poetic, selecting features that are appropriate for the communicative act and intended audience.
At this point in the episode, Jason began working his way through the poem as an inquisitive reader and language user, examining and thinking aloud about how to make sense of words that were unfamiliar to him.
Jason: So, as I’m reading this [first line], I see the word “predator,” which sounds like something is after me. But then I see, now help me with this: “dociles”?
Jason: And is that like being docile, like being calm?
Liliana: Uh huh. Yeah.
Jason: Wow. So, you’re saying they are predators but they are also very calm?
Jason modeled taking a risk and reading/speaking a Spanish word he was unfamiliar with (“dociles”) before deferring to Liliana to make sure his pronunciation and inference about the meaning were accurate. This discursive move positioned Liliana as the expert/teacher, while simultaneously modeling for TCs in the community strategies for how teachers—who may see themselves as monolingual—can engage with students who compose multilingually in languages that may be unfamiliar. He continued to do this with/across the next line of the poem, making his think aloud even more explicit for in-service teachers and TCs in the audience:
Jason: And then I see “hunters”… and I see a word that looks very curious to me [“curiosos”].
Liliana: (chuckling) I think you got it, Dr. DeHart.
Jason: Is that a cognate… is that related to the word curious?
Liliana: It is!
Jason: That is so cool.
Devery: Oh! Teachers [and TCs], it’s your turn to chat! What does cognate mean?
The discursive moves here by both Jason and Devery highlight the ways the teaching in Literacy-Cast was always layered and once more drew on the chat itself as a kind flow, a real-time space for interaction. When Jason used the word cognate, he was not necessarily speaking to children in the community; he was modeling and speaking to TCs and in-service teachers.
Devery extended this approach by explicitly inviting teachers to use the chat to share what they knew about cognates. Once more, the wider community was able to engage and support this instructional moment and become part of the teaching and learning process in a moment that was facilitated by the affordances of the performative infrastructure.
A TC wrote in the chat “that a cognate is a word that is similar in multiple languages,” which Devery and Jason explained, can help readers and teachers be language detectives. In this way, Literacy-Cast offered opportunities, embedded in shared reading and writing experiences, for faculty to learn from and with Liliana, leveraging the corriente of her dynamic translanguaging performances, while collaboratively helping the larger community learn about translanguaging pedagogy. The decision to center and highlight a text that illustrated a multidirectional flow between languages enabled the pedagogical flow between and among members of the learning community.
At the conclusion of Liliana’s coteaching focused on her original poem Sharks/Los Tiburones, Devery identified herself as a language learner who was inspired by translingual writers and teachers like Liliana:
I wish I was someone who could speak two languages. I’m trying to learn a second, but I know there are friends out in our Literacy-Cast audience that already know how to speak two languages. I think that Ms. Martinez is giving this incredible challenge that if we could bring both languages into a poem we could write.
And then she turned to TCs and in-service teachers in the community, specifically:
And the other thing I think, teachers, is that when we extend invitations that leverage knowledge that students already have, whether that’s in multiple languages, we are creating more opportunities for writing.
The instructional decisions and flow in this example were not insulated to a single opportunity, but rather existed as a next step among many in the changing stream of what Literacy-Cast could be and would become. The invitational nature of the virtual community as an ongoing aspect of the ideology and environment, which is evidenced by a faculty member’s challenge at the end of that exchange: “And if our friends out there know more than one language, I’d love to see it in your books and your writing, because I think that’s something to celebrate.”
Flow 3: Multidirectional Mentorship Between Families/Caregivers and TCs
In addition to interactions facilitated within the window-to-window space afforded by the Zoom community, Liliana took up and extended the invitational sense of the Literacy-Cast community in her work with a child participant and her family. Further extending affordances of the video conferencing platform, the summer version of Literacy-Cast also offered graduate students/TCs whole group, small group, and individual spaces and times for working with children.
In the afternoons, closely mirroring the interactions that previously occurred in the face-to-face reading clinic, graduate student teaching dyads tutored individual children. The graduate student dyads were composed of either two graduate students/TCs working in tandem, or a graduate student/TC and graduate student/in-service teacher mentoring team. The virtual infrastructure, in essence, opened up access to a multitiered system of collaborative interactions, providing for both observational opportunities and mentoring in practice from and with fellow graduate students and faculty members.
Liliana (and her graduate student/in-service teacher mentor) were paired with Noelia, a rising fourth-grade student who could speak, read, and write in both English and Spanish. Noelia’s mother taught her to read and write in Spanish as she was learning to read and write in English. As part of her final case study assignment, Liliana observed that Noelia was “more actively participating in the [individual tutoring sessions] than in the small group meetings. In our small group sessions, she [was] a lot more reserved and only communicate[d] with the group once or twice per session.”
Liliana routinely drew on her own bilingual strength and identity to connect with Noelia during these tutoring sessions, foregrounding a translingual orientation in their first meeting. Using an electronic slideshow (Google Slides), Liliana shared a photo of her book spine poem (Esperanza) from the spring, alongside a bit of personal information including, “I love reading and writing. Poetry is my favorite…. I am bilingual. I speak Spanish and English.” Liliana’s pedagogical choices in her introduction and across the summer sessions disrupted the privileging of one language over another.
The afternoon tutoring spaces with Noelia provided Liliana with rich opportunities for more individualized writing instruction, as well as a new layer of intentionality in making space for critical translingual encounters. Digital book making (using Book Creator) emerged as a particularly productive and engaging instructional activity in the tutoring sessions. Liliana first worked to learn about Noelia’s interests and passions (great white sharks, fairy penguins, and hummingbirds), then curated multimodal digital texts to support a collaborative inquiry process, and finally facilitated the process of coauthoring a translingual book to share what was learned.
One afternoon when composing a page in their digital book Marvelous Animals, in an improvisational shift (Garcia et al., 2016) that aligned with the communal and invitational nature of the Literacy-Cast, Noelia’s mother became part of the composing process. Liliana described this experience in a late interview:
One day when we were starting to work on the translation part of [our bilingual] book, I think [Noelia’s] mom was just cooking in the kitchen, just like a room over from wherever Noelia was. I think I was trying to translate a word [about sharks], and I was trying to see if [Noelia] knew the word, and so what she did is, I think she put herself on mute and called out to her mom and said, you know, like asked her … and Mom came and told her what she was thinking. And so, then I asked Noelia, “Did your mom just help us with the book?” And she said, “Yeah she did! She gave me that word.” (February 12, 2021)
Families can be invited in a multitude of ways — physically and figuratively — into face-to-face clinics and classrooms to partner with teachers. This instance, however, foregrounds the affordances of Noelia writing in spaces where she was simultaneously surrounded by the people, tools/objects, and languages that were central to her lived experiences. Notice that Noelia initiated this collaboration, muting Zoom and calling out to her mother in the kitchen, positioning her mother as someone who had language expertise that exceeded both her own and Liliana’s. Just as critically, Liliana responded to this unexpected turn in the collaborative writing lesson by positioning Noelia’s actions (and her mother’s) as generative and supportive of writing.
Instead of redirecting Noelia to focus on doing her own writing, a common trope in writing instruction in virtual and face-to-face classrooms, Liliana celebrated how Noelia’s mother “helped us with the book,” suggesting that composing is a collaborative process, one where writers seek out others who can support them in accomplishing their aims. In responding to Noelia’s pressing mute to consult with her mother amid the tutoring session, Liliana centered Noelia as a strategic, knowledgeable language user. She tapped into the flowing translanguaging corriente, a “dynamic and continuous movement of language features that change the static linguistic landscape” (Garcia et al., 2016, p. 21) of virtual schooled spaces.
As part of this interaction, Liliana recommended that they “add [Mom] as a coauthor to this book because she helped us,” to which Noelia happily agreed. To further position Noelia’s mother as a mentor, Liliana asked Noelia if her mother could come over so the three coauthors could briefly confer with one another. Liliana reflected,
[I] just [wanted to] kind of have that conversation, “Is it okay, for us to add you as a coauthor to this book, you know, you’re helping us translate, [and] I want to honor that.” And so, we had that conversation, and she was happy to be involved and that was a really good moment, because I felt that I could communicate with her directly and just kind of share what we were doing, and I think that she was grateful to see that, you know, I was working with her, and we were trying to build this together. (February 12, 2021)
Considering how challenging it can be to arrange meetings with families/caregivers, especially amid a global pandemic, this improvisational conference offered insights into how performative infrastructures like Literacy-Cast might allow expertise and mentorship to flow more openly from home to school. Liliana, Noelia, and Noelia’s mother had the opportunity to connect within the comfort of their own homes and daily routines: Noelia channeled her mother’s expertise as a language user, which then created space for Liliana to learn from this expertise and channel it as a formal source of mentorship for shared writing. What was a clinic/school-based writing invitation suddenly became connected to relationships and expertise found in Noelia’s home.
In Marvelous Animals, the digital book they coauthored over 3 weeks together, Liliana and Noelia leveraged the tools in Book Creator tool to design the pages as multimodal translingual comic panels that taught readers about ruby-throated hummingbirds, loggerhead turtles, fairy penguins, and of course, great white sharks. On one of the shark pages (Figure 5), they embedded a large image of a great white shark in the background and then added five bilingual speech balloons with text written from the perspective of a shark (e.g., “¿Te gustan mis dientes delgados? – Do you like my sharp teeth?”).
Figure 5 A Shark Page From Noelia’s and Liliana’s Marvelous Animals Digital Translingual Book
We noted how the coauthors placed the Spanish before the English, offering readers in Literacy-Cast the chance to experience making sense of an unfamiliar language before encountering the English translation. This digital book was a powerful example of engaging with translanguaging as something more than a temporary scaffold toward achieving proficiency in DAE. By taking up translanguaging as an ideological and pedagogical stance across this collaborative writing event, Liliana demonstrated an awareness that languages and semiotic modes are always in contact and complement each other in communicating with audiences that matter in the real world. Her work with Noelia also highlights how digital tools and platforms like Book Creator offer rich invitations for children of all ages to engage with translingual multimodal composing (e.g., Rowe & Miller, 2016; Rowe, 2018).
The final Literacy-Cast episode of the summer clinic was structured as a culminating celebration and author’s circle time. When it was time, Liliana supported Noelia, who was joining on a phone from the back seat of a car, in sharing the great white shark page from their book with the Literacy-Cast community. Liliana began by introducing Noelia as a writer who can write in two languages:
Liliana: So, Noelia was able to use her Spanish and English language skills to help us create this page of her book, and it’s kind of like the introduction to talking about great white sharks, which are one of Noelia’s favorite animals.
Jason: Awesome! Such a super power. I just love it.
Devery: Yeah. I feel like I could use this to help learn more Spanish, you know, because I need to and this is really helpful!
Liliana and Noelia went on to read aloud the translingual text on the page (Figure 5), with faculty members and other TCs expressing their admiration in the chat and verbally for Noelia’s superpower of being able to read and write in multiple languages. As part of this final celebration, Liliana was sure to make public the mentoring role Noelia’s mother had played in supporting the writing process: “We had such a fun time. And we were even able to get Noelia’s mom to help with some translations, because some of the words I didn’t even know, so we came up with them all together.”
Through the virtual performative infrastructure of Literacy-Cast, Liliana was able to create a collaborative space for digital composing that broke down boundaries and allowed for increased flow between home and school writing and language (Seltzer, 2019). In interactions with both Noelia and her mother, Liliana embraced, “patience to co-construct meaning, and an acceptance of negotiated outcomes in interactions” (Canagarajah, 2013a, p. 5), all critical elements of taking up a translingual orientation to writing instruction.
By positioning Noelia’s mother as a community resource — as a coauthor and mentor — for translingual writing, Noelia and Liliana had opportunities to learn from and with a caregiver/family who would not have been able to physically come into a clinic/classroom setting on a regular basis. This flow of mentorship from home/family to TCs, in this case, was a rich and collaborative extension of invitation, even in the context of the challenges that have been part of at-home learning in the pandemic context. Furthermore, this instructional move directed the flow of mentorship to position members of families and communities as experts who are part of, rather than a distraction from, the learning and teaching community. In channeling this expertise, TCs, in-service teachers, children, and caregivers can, in the words of Liliana, try to “build [writing instruction] together.”
In this analysis, we asked the following questions:
- How does the virtual performative infrastructure of Literacy-Cast channel multidirectional flows of mentorship that nurture the community’s enactment of culturally sustaining writing pedagogy?
- In what ways does a TC leverage the translanguaging corriente and subsequently transform a virtual community of writers and writing teachers?
As we analyzed data and recounted our experience with Liliana over the past year, we arrived at a number of implications for creating virtual performative infrastructures that foster the flow of multidirectional mentorship between and among members of the learning community, including TCs.
A Simultaneous and Invitational Infrastructure
In spring and summer 2020, the faculty members who are part of the Literacy-Cast team were presented with a unique challenge — a pivot to online instruction that might sustain graduate student experiences with children for literacy instruction. Into this nascent virtual environment Liliana took on the role of both mentee and mentor. Because of the work she had done with members of our team, namely Beth F., prior to the pandemic, as well as the environment we sought to create together, Liliana knew that disclosing aspects of her bilingual identity would be not only a safe choice, but one that was valued by the community. The response garnered from faculty, in-service teachers, and children participating in the Literacy-Cast provided a network of support and encouragement for continued centering of written works composed across languages. This sense of support was instrumental in the flow of multidirectional mentorship.
As a result of our move to online instruction, the traditional boundaries of classroom and clinical spaces for practice were also blurred. The performative infrastructure of Literacy-Cast created opportunities for participants to intersect and transform community across geographic boundaries. We simply could not envision learning environments exactly as they had previously been enacted.
The geographically dispersed and intergenerational community that is Literacy-Cast was one in which heterogeneity was the norm. Membership was linguistically, racially, and culturally diverse, and heterogeneously composed of diverse abilities and genders, much more so than we could ever hope to include in face-to-face graded classrooms or traditional clinic spaces.
The performative infrastructure of Literacy-Cast created opportunities for transforming temporal boundaries and experiencing simultaneity (Massey, 2005, p. 12). Children in this community participated in Literacy-Cast amid the infinite moments that formed their lives. Across the pincushion of stories made visible across our Zoom windows, children were eating breakfast, running after chickens, holding young siblings, traveling with parents, authoring texts, and playing video games. They were simultaneously sibling and author, farmer and artist, gamer and poet. They were writing in the midst of their lives, and transforming any temporal separation that once existed between creating and life-living. As teacher educators envision virtual spaces for writing instruction, we must ask ourselves, “In what ways can this space create flows that form and transform communities and disrupt geographical and temporal boundaries?”
Intentional Decisions About Who/What Are Central
Our shared enactment of culturally sustaining writing pedagogy made the translanguaging corriente of Literacy-Cast stronger, ultimately helping transform the community as a whole. Throughout the summer, in interaction with Liliana, the faculty team came increasingly to see the English dominant nature of Literacy-Cast and consciously worked to exhibit “favorable dispositions towards bilingualism, biliteracy, and broader linguistic diversity” (Zapata & Laman, 2016, p. 367). These favorable dispositions led to the flow of more translanguaging practice in Literacy-Cast itself via chat or through read-alouds of child-created work, with shared texts and books, with carefully selected author visits, and in children’s digital Book Creator books.
A move toward corrective stance or reification of homogeneity could have potentially stifled the flow of linguistic practice we experienced together. We noted the challenges of our pandemic context, and we further noted the need to trouble traditional notions of what is valued in literacy instruction.
Virtual infrastructures stem from sociopolitical realities and do not simply materialize with an independence from social and semantic entanglements (Gillespie, 2010). In our context, there was a disruption of traditional hierarchical structure in terms of faculty and graduate student collaboration, as well as the disruption of monolithic and monolingual approaches to writing instruction. The virtual performative infrastructure of Literacy-Cast allowed for these disruptions to occur as TCs/graduate students engaged in layers of mentoring practice and as Liliana continued to challenge us with her bravery and insightful pedagogical choices for disclosing identity and forming community.
Liliana’s engagement within the Literacy-Cast community highlighted the flow of “language in action” (Zapata, 2020, p. 386); she was positioned as an insider, a storyteller with expertise and lived experiences (Arnold & Sableski, 2020). Over time, we came to see how this flow of languages between episodes — and the sharing of expertise between members of the community — was critical to the strength of Literacy-Cast as a space for TCs to learn about teaching writing.
One key element of the performative infrastructure that allowed for this flow of language was access to and the use of Book Creator, allowing children, TCs, in-service teachers, and faculty members to author and coauthor across modes of expression, genres/formats, languages, and time. In the case of honoring authors’ languages, the Book Creator platform was especially powerful, in that it brought together digital tools that allowed for speech-to-text accessibility and read-aloud capability, along with the ability to integrate and embed alphabetic text, images, videos, and audio. This virtual authoring space allowed for intentional celebrations of student work in the Literacy-Cast on a daily basis — an ongoing voicing of support and encouragement. Many of these books were featured during Literacy-Cast episode celebrations that were generative in their capacity for eliciting the production of more writing and books, as well as generative in expanding adult community members’ knowledge of young writers language practices, cultures, and passions.
Writing was never required for participating in Literacy-Cast, but a significant group of children actively created books between Literacy-Cast episodes. In many cases, these authors and illustrators, like Noelia, were striving readers or minoritized language speakers who had not always seen themselves as writers in school. While the digital tools for composing were not our endgame in themselves, as part of the virtual infrastructure, they allowed Literacy-Cast episodes to center community members’ everyday languages, stories, and perspectives.
As teacher educators envision spaces for virtual writing instruction, we must ask ourselves, “In what ways do the digital authoring tools and platforms selected allow languages and expertise to flow between synchronous sessions? How can observing children’s digital book making be leveraged as a tool to help TCs value the languages, perspectives and expertise that children bring into spaces and, in response, enact culturally sustaining writing pedagogy?”
Environments of Collaboration and Continued Development
Finally, we note the changing nature of digital environments as a challenge juxtaposed with a ludic invitation for further pedagogical development and innovation as the role of teacher and learner dynamically shifts. As faculty members, we were mentored and moved by Liliana’s interactions with our shared space community across time. Through close observation of how Liliana centered her own language practices and identities as a writer and writing teacher, she fundamentally shifted the linguistic landscape of Literacy-Cast. Liliana was a coteacher with deep levels of expertise, who inspired and invited inquiry into various cultural and linguistic practices and identities (Zapata & Laman, 2016), thereby making space for translingual encounters to emerge and disrupting social hierarchies often found in traditional classroom spaces (Ball & Jimenez, 2018).
Literacy-Cast was uniquely designed as a collaboration among four members of a faculty team, who worked from a similar stance of value for translingual writing practices and who are actively engaged in clinical literacy work. This sense of collaboration was a component of the virtual environment that allowed for the facilitation of discussion with a wider community, including coteaching and reading aloud of group chat responses. No one of us could have done this work alone, and our shared respect for one another and willingness to be vulnerable and attempt online instruction fostered an environment where TCs were willing to take risks, accept invitations, and ultimately teach and mentor us. As Garcia et al. (2016) noted, “It takes a teacher willing to keep meaning-making and learning at the center of all instruction and assessment to go with the flow of the corriente” (p. 28). Across multiple hours of planning, debriefing, and interacting in virtual space, we found a common willingness to try out ideas and support one another, as well as a common focus on the importance of literacy development across languages and cultures as we supported growing teachers.
Within the textured and rounded virtual space, Liliana’s participation and architecture alongside faculty members, proved once more to extend our thinking about what virtual interactions and structures for literacy instruction might become in these new times. The silos that often characterize universities, public schools, rural areas, and cities intersected in Literacy-Cast to create a “pincushion of a million stories” (Massey, 2013, p. 3).
In this space, TCs like Liliana were not expected to transverse the gulfs between writing pedagogies and language ideologies alone. Instead, the distance between classroom and university becomes a shared space, one in which all voices can claim agency, where TCs can become vulnerable in sharing their own languages and stories. To facilitate this flow of multidirectional mentorship, the boundaries of what Literacy-Cast could become and those who could be invited were permeable and allowed for pedagogical improvisation within a performative virtual infrastructure, aimed at generating more and more student writing.
Being in community with Liliana expanded our own thinking and reified the communal stance of our work, helping us renegotiate and enact a more culturally sustaining pedagogy, in which linguistic diversity is situated as a core asset in Literacy-Cast. Flow did not stop with the interactions between and among faculty members and TCs, nor did it find a barrier at TC-child interactions. Through opportunities to write both for Noelia (Sharks/Los Tiburones) and with Noelia (Marvelous Animals), Liliana ultimately pushed the Literacy-Cast community more explicitly to center and celebrate the beauty of translingual writing as a creative and instructional move alongside children and their families. This move was possible as online interactions erased barriers.
As teacher educators envision spaces for virtual writing instruction, we must ask ourselves,
In what ways does the performative infrastructure allow for the flow of mentorship to embody the kinds of generativity called for by Ball and Jimenez (2018), whereby TCs and faculty “continually add to their understanding by connecting their personal and professional knowledge with the knowledge that they gain from their students/[teachers] to produce or originate knowledge” (p. 323)?
As teacher educators look for effective clinical models — like Literacy-Cast — that help bridge the traditional school and university divide, we must pay close attention to the kind of virtual infrastructures we are building in writing methods courses far beyond COVID-19. What flows is our infrastructure meant to channel or capture? What are the aspects of pedagogy-as-practiced that might be reframed or expanded so that flow is not interrupted?
We identified flows that are critical for teacher preparation programs to consider when designing virtual spaces for teaching writing instruction. Many of the components that fostered a flow of multidirectional mentorship might be rewoven in face-to-face spaces, while others may continue in ongoing virtual instruction as a result of all we have learned. The implications of this study call for attention to the affordances of digital tools, not simply as placeholders for face-to-face instruction but for empowering spaces for new kinds of mentoring, new kind of composition, and new kinds of writers and teachers of writing who can “go with the flow[s]” (Pennycook, 2007).
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