Presentation Details

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The Eleventh International Literacy and Education Research Network Conference on Learning

Got "Academic Language"?: Observing the Cultural Dialogue of English Learner Literacy in California's Professional Development Institutes

Dr. Katherine Richardson Bruna.

Using the notion of "cultural dialogue" from educational anthropology, this paper examines how the tension between the explicit and implicit discourse over "academic language" within the context of a statewide network of professional development institutes for teachers of English learners in California is illustrative of a larger "cultural dialogue" over the values of assimilation and pluralism in U.S. society and schools. The author, who was an external evaluator of the professional development institutes, draws on data she gathered from institute documents, professional development materials, and teacher practices and uses these to deconstruct 3 strategic assertions: 1) academic language is about "needs"; 2) academic language is about "universal access"; and 3) academic language is about "language." She argues that, one one level, these assertions further the liberal pedagogical perspective of promoting assimilation as a means of educational and socio-economic success, while, at another, reproducing the conservative assimilationist end of cultural and linguistic standardization. The author is wary that, in this climate of accountability and assessment, scholars and teachers of academic language may be helping, in McDermott's (1997) words, "achieve school failure." Thus, she concludes by urging for renewed attention to an ethics of English learner education.


Dr. Katherine Richardson Bruna  (United States)
Assistant Professor
Multicultural and International Curriculum Studies Department of Curriculum and Instruction
Iowa State University

Dr. Richardson Bruna received her B.A. (Hispanic Studies) from Vassar College and her M.A. (Linguistics) and Ph.D. (Sociocultural Studies in Education) from the University of California at Davis. She has worked as a Research Scientist at the American Institutes of Research on the evaluation of Proposition 227 (California’s anti-bilingual educational initiative) and on an evaluation of a statewide network of professional development institutes for teachers of English learners. Currently an Assistant Professor in the Curriculum and Instruction Department at Iowa State University, her research examines the conceptualization and implementation of teachers’ approaches to academic language development, with particular emphasis on the context of science.

  • Academic Language
  • English Learners
  • Professional Development
  • Cultural and Linguistic Diversity
  • Schools and Society

(30 min. Conference Paper, English)