New ASU program tackles state's language issues - East Valley Tribune: News

New ASU program tackles state's language issues

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Posted: Sunday, June 29, 2008 6:13 pm | Updated: 9:19 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Spanish. English. Pima. Some of Arizona's greatest education dilemmas deal with the languages that are heard - or not heard - in its classrooms and homes.

Spanish. English. Pima.

Some of Arizona's greatest education dilemmas deal with the languages that are heard - or not heard - in its classrooms and homes.

Now, Arizona State University is hoping to create a body of doctoral-level scholars, and research, to tackle those issues.

A new Applied Linguistics Ph.D. program, which is seeing its first five candidates enroll this fall, aims to prepare linguists to find solutions to challenges dealing with issues of language and literacy.

"This very much taps into the needs of the state," said program director Jeff MacSwan, associate professor of curriculum and instruction at the Fulton College of Education, where the program is housed. "We have a lot of immigrants here and you hear a lot of chit-chat about this, but we want real, informed public policy decisions. ... We need informed citizens throughout the state."

First on his list: Taking politics out of the issue of how to best educate English language learners.

"It's not unlike the climate research. There you have something really politicized, too, and activists on both sides," he said. "Our state has really politicized issues around English learners, and its very unfortunate for the state and for the students. ... We want to create an ongoing body of research to help level-headed legislators make policies that help - that aren't destructive."

Other universities in Arizona already offer advanced linguistics degrees. But by organizing faculty who study linguistics, but who are spread out in departments as varied as engineering, psychology and education, the university will offer a unique, interdisciplinary program, MacSwan said.

"This isn't what most people think of when they hear it - just breaking words apart," said Daisy Fredricks, a former Mesa junior high school teacher who will enter the program in the fall. "This is more in a social context of how people learn languages, not necessarily in the brain, but through the communities they are in."

Students can focus on areas like bilingualism, language planning and policy and indigenous language education.

Taunalee Bradshaw, who taught a dual language class at Tempe's Holdeman Elementary School last year, will also start in the fall.

Bradshaw was already working on her master's in education at ASU, but the new program piqued her interest after she saw the list of its professors. She said many are leading researchers in the field.

Bradshaw believes her years of teaching experience will make her a valuable researcher.

"I'll be studying educational linguistics, because I wanted to stay in my field of education but also study linguistics. I think that there should more of a bridge between those two fields and I think my background as classroom teacher could help," she said.

MacSwan said he also hopes that by creating the program, more opportunities could become available for undergraduate students to begin taking more linguistics coursework, too. Ultimately, he said, it will benefit the university, as well as the community and state.

Fredricks hopes her research will ultimately help teachers.

She has a degree in Spanish education and has spent several years working with ELL students. Now, she will research second-language learners in middle and high school.

"I just feel that so many teachers out there think, 'What do I do with these students who are coming to me in 10th and 11th grade and they don't know English?' How are we going to prepare them to graduate?" she said. "It's a very difficult question."

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