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Illustrating linguistic dexterity in “English mostly” spaces: how translanguaging can support academic writing in secondary ELA classrooms

Thea Williamson (Department of Literacy Studies, Salisbury University, Salisbury, Maryland, USA)
Aris Clemons (World Languages and Literatures, The University of Tennessee Knoxville, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA)

English Teaching: Practice & Critique

ISSN: 1175-8708

Article publication date: 29 December 2022

Issue publication date: 20 March 2023




Little research has been done exploring the nature of multilingual students who are not categorized as English language learners (ELLs) in English language arts (ELA) classes. This study about a group of multilingual girls in an ELA class led by a monolingual white teacher aims to show how, when a teacher makes space for translanguaging practices in ELA, multilingual students disrupt norms of English only.


The authors use reconstructive discourse analysis to understand translanguaging across a variety of linguistic productions for a group of four focal students. Data sources include fieldnotes from 29 classroom observations, writing samples and process documents and 8.5 h of recorded classroom discourse.


Students used multilingualism across a variety of discourse modes, frequently in spoken language and rarely in written work. Translanguaging was most present in small-group peer talk structures, where students did relationship building, generated ideas for writing and managed their writing agendas, including feelings about writing. In addition, Spanish served as “elevated vocabulary” in writing. Across discourse modes, translanguaging served to develop academic proficiency in writing.


The authors proposed a more expansive approach to data analysis in English-mostly cases – i.e. environments shaped by multilingual students in monolingual school contexts – to argue for anti-deficit approaches to literacy development for multilingual students. Analyzing classroom talk alongside literacy allows for a more nuanced understanding of translanguaging practices in academic writing. They also show how even monolingual teachers can disrupt monolingual hegemony in ELA classrooms with high populations of multilingual students.



Williamson, T. and Clemons, A. (2023), "Illustrating linguistic dexterity in “English mostly” spaces: how translanguaging can support academic writing in secondary ELA classrooms", English Teaching: Practice & Critique, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 79-95.



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