Participatory Research of Bilingual and Biliterate Practice for Immigrant Students


It has been suggested that biliterate and bilingual education can contribute to students’ linguistic and cultural flexibility, which is likely to be an asset in a world that makes increasing use of multilingual and multimodal communication (Hornberger, 2007; Huang, 1995; Kenner, 2003). Immigrant children, with their access to their first language, are expected to possess the advantage of being bilingual and biliterate. However, research has suggested that immigrant children’s biliteracy development may be restricted by institutional constraints due to the lack of status afforded to literacies other than English in the educational system (Fan, 2009; Kenner, 2000).

Addressing the same problem, this study stems from data collected in a participatory action research with five third-grade students (three Chinese immigrant students and two American peers) in an elementary school in Hawai’i. Adopting a participatory paradigm and a sociocultural view of language learning, the author combines internal and external perspectives to (1) identify the concrete conflicts between the monolingual institutional environment and immigrant students’ language and identity development, and (2) examine how biliterate and bilingual practices may contribute to students’, especially immigrant students’, identity development, attitude toward the target language learning and enculturation into the host society.

In the research, participants were engaged in bilingual and biliterate practices including bilingual book reading and bilingual drama, during which their (inter)actions were videotaped. Video data were further analyzed with Transana, a multimodal video analysis tool which made it possible to integrate multiple factors together and look at the interaction patterns as they emerged. Falling into Veale’s (2005) categorization of “creative methods” that draw on inventive and imaginative processes to analyze children’s experiences, free drawing, happy/sad drawing and interviews were further applied to evaluate students’ perception of themselves and their peers before, during and after the application of the biliterate and bilingual practices.

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