To Translanguage or Not To Translanguage?

Where does translanguaging fit into assessment?

In the 2015 article Clarifying translanguaging and deconstructing named languages: A perspective from linguistics, Otheguy, García, and Reid define translanguaging as the ‘full idiolect or repertoire which belongs only to the speaker.’ Furthermore,

‘schools confuse the assessment of general linguistic proficiency, which is best manifested in bilinguals while translanguaging, with the testing of proficiency in a named language, which insists on inhibiting translanguaging.’

As educators of bilingual/ multilingual learners who both test students and engage students in assessment, what are we to do? If translanguaging is tied directly to an individual, how is it or is it to be tested or assessed in a group setting, such as in a classroom?

Testing is an isolated event that occurs at one point in time while assessment is a social activity that extends over time. Information from testing folds into assessment, however, where does translanguaging fit?

Let’s center our attention on how different stakeholders might help clarify this dilemma. Here are three suggestions for thinking about translanguaging within assessment practices.

1) District and school leaders should co-construct an assessment and language policy to build shared ownership around translanguaging.

In realizing a school’s and district’s mission and vision inclusive of multilingual learners’ assets, leadership teams, including community and student partners, should clarify the role of language in teaching, learning, and assessment. For example, what is the place of translanguaging in instructional models that stipulate specified language allocations (such as 90/10…50/50) or center on English language development and how does it manifest itself in assessment?

Let’s center our attention on how different stakeholders might help clarify this dilemma. Here are three suggestions for thinking about translanguaging within assessment practices.

2) Teachers should create a warm and inviting classroom community of learners that embraces multiple language use for instruction and assessment.

As educators, we should honor the individual language portraits and preferences of each multilingual learner (their idiolects) during instruction and assessment. Translanguaging should never be a force fit, but rather represent each multilingual learner’s personal desire to use multiple languages as a sign of their growing metalinguistic and metacultural awareness.

3) Multilingual learners should have the freedom to engage in learning (and living) using their own idiolect or linguistic repertoire with translanguaging being recognized as a personalized language practice.

If translanguaging is viewed as a natural flow between or among languages, then bilingual/multilingual learners need opportunities to access and have optimal use of those languages irrespective of the language(s) of instruction and assessment. As students engage in self-and peer assessment with the freedom of language choice, their bilingual voices will be heard, revealing their true evidence and full range of learning.

Testing serves as one data source for assessment-related decisions in classrooms, schools, and districts. To what extent do we/ should we rely on (or weigh) language use in test data as an indicator of student achievement? On the other hand, if language is viewed as a resource for learning, bilingual/multilingual learners must be recognized as language practitioners. Should each multilingual learner’s idiolect or linguistic repertoire be considered in assessment situations as an expression of their achievement?

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