Curriculum Vitae Biosketch

  • Associate Professor, Education, Culture & Society


Research Summary

In my research, I draw on anthropology, sociology, bilingual education, and cultural studies when examining the broader sociocultural factors (i.e., race, language ideologies, gender, immigration, etc.) which impact the development and fostering of bilingualism and biliteracy in Latin@ and other language communities inside and outside of school settings.

Research Statement

I am a critical language educator guided by a commitment to social justice, equity, and diversity that holds an asset-based perspective toward students, families, and communities recognizing their cultural wealth and individual agency.  Overall, I specifically see my research efforts building toward a comprehensive understanding of how and the degree to which sociocultural factors (e.g., race, language, class, ideologies, laws and policies) intersect within the family, school, and community to contribute toward multilingualism and multilingual literacy development in young children and its implications for educational equity and the educational trajectory of students—particularly Latina/o students—marginalized on the basis of entering schools speaking a language other than English (EL status), race/ethnicity, poverty, gender, or citizenship status.

I situate myself within a critical sociocultural framework that says we must understand phenomenon such as multilingualism as a socially mediated process that cannot be separated from the broader social cultural historical contexts and the dynamics of power in which they occur.  This framework allows me to connect a sociocultural perspective with other critical frameworks that offer a more nuanced interrogation of issues of power (e.g., critical race theory, critical language policy and planning, borderland theory, Chicana feminism) in ways that capture a more holistic understanding of the issue of language and its role in the day-to-day lives of students and their families.  As such, this theoretical framework necessarily requires an interdisciplinary approach (linguistic anthropology, sociology, multilingual education, and cultural studies).  I have done this through three interrelated strands of research: language learning occurring in school and in out-of-school contexts that foster multilingualism; language policy and planning from the macro level of federal and state government policies that determine language education options to the micro level of the classroom and family that promote or curtail particular language choices; and the teacher education & practices that promote the values of multilingualism, multiculturalism, and social justice across educational settings.

My first strand of research in language learning began with the exploration of how language education efforts in Latina/o families, communities, and the schools their young children were entering for the first time intersected and mediated the sociopolitical/historical factors that constrained these efforts. What I found was that one could not look at issues of language within schools and families without also revealing the structural factors impacting Latinas/os’ experiences in schools and the day-to-day agency practiced by students, families, teachers, and communities to negotiate them. This research contributed to the field in several important ways.  In the article, ‘Good’ students and involved mothers: Latina/o responses to normalization pressures in schools, research findings disrupted deficit constructions of Latina/o students and mothers offering instead examples of how they develop expertise on the school’s norms, learn to gauge how they are socially positioned at any given time, and negotiate a response drawing on their cultural wealth. Follow-up research I’ve conducted related to this strand, illustrates the agency exhibited by Latina/o households through their bilingual family educational practices and the messages embedded about the expected role of English and Spanish in their lives developed in response to institutional constraints and messages about the status of Spanish. It extended other researchers’ documentation of Latina/o family life by detailing what we mean by Latina/o family’s cultural resources and provided examples of the more subtle ways and reasons Latina/o families and their children contribute (or not) to Spanish/English bilingualism efforts in their everyday practices. In addition, my research in this strand highlights the important dialogic interaction that exists between school language policies/practices and families’ Spanish language maintenance efforts was revealed, highlighting the central role campus promotion of Spanish plays in raising the value and use of Spanish at home. Finally in this strand of research I have explored the role of three Salt Lake City community language programs in the early childhood heritage language learning experiences of children from Korean, Vietnamese, and Spanish language communities, an area of research that remains scant. This research highlights local community literacy efforts that provide culturally and linguistically diverse children with tools to strengthen their sense of themselves, their talents, and their valued membership in particular cultural and linguistic communities as a counter to deficit messages many of them are exposed to in school. 

As a result of my findings in language learning, I broadened my efforts into a second strand of research—language policy and planning—combining it with language learning to begin exploring more deeply the educational language policies in early childhood (specifically the accountability standards adopted for measuring preschoolers’ progress toward English within Head Start programs) and their impact on a) a local bilingual Head Start program’s decisions regarding the language of instruction for their largely Latina/o population, b) bilingual early childhood teachers’ language ideologies and classroom practices, and c) ultimately on young children’s bilingualism and biliteracy outcomes.  Because relatively little research had looked at early childhood language of instruction policies and practices, particularly those within the U.S./Mexico borderlands where over 95% of the program staff and children attending are Latinas/os, the article, Latina early childhood teachers negotiating language policies en la frontera, offers a unique view of the frequent disconnect between stated versus enacted language policies and some of the reasons for this disconnect (e.g., ideological contradictions resulting from teachers’ negative personal experiences related to the devaluation of them as Spanish-speakers in their own schooling experiences in addition to their current limited Spanish literacy abilities). These findings reinforce the notion that language policymaking is a social practice and provide insights into additional factors (e.g., bilingual community context, teachers’ language ideologies) that may need to be taken into account when formulating language policies and practices that impact Latina/o children. My most noteworthy research in the language policy and planning strand focuses on exploring Utah’s state-level dual language immersion policies and its impact on the levels of access marginalized students have to various language education options in the state. This research highlights the equity implications of this policy in the state of Utah and beyond, as a number of states have explicitly adopted or been influenced by the “Utah model” of dual language immersion. I specifically looked at the discursive and demographic inequities and the equity effects of the discourses surrounding the promotion of these programs by the state’s promotional materials for the program. 

Finally, as a result of my research with teachers in classrooms and my renewed involvement in Utah in K-12 teacher education, I have nurtured the development of the third strand of my research: teacher education and practice.  With my work in early childhood education expanded to include work in K-12 education, it was important for me to begin to bring attention to the policy issues impacting Latinas/os in early childhood education (particularly around language) and its implications for K-12 education. To do this I authored an invited chapter in the Handbook of Latinos in Education titled, Latin@s in early childhood education: Issues, practices, and future directions which speaks to K-12 educators working with Latina/o students. Adding to this research strand on teacher education is the work with dual language and ESL educators that has led to the preparation of manuscripts focused on the value of developing pre-service teachers sociopolitical consciousness through examination of a) local language policies around the politics that surround language education in the U.S. and b) how a participatory professional development process for dual language immersion teachers promoted the improvement of culturally responsive teaching in their classrooms.  I am currently collaborating with College of Education colleagues affiliated with the Urban Institute of Teacher Education on a research project examining the views of graduating University of Utah pre-service teachers regarding diversity, social justice, and their preparation to work with students learning English as a second language.

Research Keywords

  • Qualitative and mixed research methods, Interest Level: 4
  • Latinos or Latinas, Interest Level: 5
  • Language policy and planning, Interest Level: 5
  • English as a Second Language, Interest Level: 4
  • Early Childhood or Pre-School Education, Interest Level: 3
  • Bilingualism & Biliteracy, Interest Level: 5
  • Bilingual or Bicultural Education, Interest Level: 5

Research/Scholarship Projects

  • Maintaining our languages: Comparative study of three Salt Lake City community heritage language programs. PI: Veronica E. Valdez. 05/2010 - 05/2015.
  • Dual Immersion Programs in Utah and English Language Learners. PI: Veronica E. Valdez. Co-PI(s): Juan Freire, Garrett Delavan. 03/2010 - present.
  • Latina/o Early Childhood Bilingualism & Biliteracy Project. PI: Veronica E. Valdez. 07/2008 - 05/2015.