Research Proposal: Exploring Heteroglossic Approaches through a Comparative Case Study of Spanish-English Bilingual Schools

ESTHER BETTNEY, University of Wisconsin-Madison


While the number of Spanish-English bilingual schools is expanding worldwide, many programs persist in teaching languages as separate entities. Schools often erroneously position students as dual monolinguals with separate linguistic systems (Grosjean, 1989). In this research proposal, I discuss bilingual programs by considering a heteroglossic paradigm that emphasizes development of holistic communicative repertoires that learners draw on selectively according to context (Blackledge & Creese, 2014; Prasad, 2014). Through a comparative case study (Bartlett & Vavrus, 2017), I will explore how three elementary Spanish-English bilingual schools in Canada, Colombia, and theUnited States are negotiating the “multilingual turn” (May, 2014), and moving away from a monoglossic bias towards a heteroglossic paradigm. By comparing across models and countries, my study will provide a meta-perspective of how heteroglossic approaches support the entirety of students’ communicative repertoires and identities. It will also demonstrate the need for flexibility in adapting programs, policies, and practices to specific bilingual school contexts. By supporting heteroglossic practices, bilingual schools can empower students to draw on their expansive communicative repertoires to participate in and build culturally and linguistically diverse societies.


 Alors que le nombre d’écoles bilingues espagnol–anglais ne cesse d’augmenter mondialement, plusieurs programmes persistent à enseigner les langues comme séparées. Bien souvent, les écoles considèrent à tort les élèves comme monolingues doubles avec des systèmes linguistiques distincts (Grosjean, 1989). Cette recherche recadre les programmes bilingues en considérant le paradigme hétéroglossique qui met l’accent sur le développement de répertoires holistiques de communication où les apprenants sont amenés à s’appuyer sur le contexte (Blackledge & Creese, 2014; Prasad, 2014). Par le biais d’une étude de cas comparative (Bartlett & Vavrus, 2017), nous explorerons comment trois écoles primaires bilingues espagnol-anglais au Canada, en Colombie et aux États-Unis adoptent une vision multilingue (May, 2014) en s’écartant des biais monoglossiques pour évoluer vers un paradigme hétéroglossique. En comparant les modèles et les pays, notre recherche fournira une métaperspective, présentant comment les approches hétéroglossiques soutiennent l’ensemble des répertoires communicatifs et l’identité des apprenants, tout en démontrant la nécessité de flexibilité pour adapter les programmes, les règlementations et les pratiques aux contextes spécifiques des écoles bilingues. En soutenant les pratiques hétéroglossiques, les écoles bilingues peuvent ainsi permettre aux apprenants de s’appuyer sur leurs vastes répertoires communicatifs pour participer à la création de sociétés culturellement et linguistiquement diverses.

Keywords: bilingual education, heteroglossia, language policy, comparative case study.


While the number of Spanish-English bilingual schools is expanding worldwide, many programs persist in teaching languages as separate entities. This leads to language researchers and educators erroneously positioning students as dual monolinguals with separate linguistic systems (Grosjean, 1989).Yet, current research calls for bilingual programs to move toward a heteroglossic paradigm, which emphasizes the development of holistic communicative repertoires that learners draw on selectively according to context (Blackledge & Creese, 2014; Prasad, 2014). A heteroglossic approach allows learners to “utilize the totality of their linguistic repertoires as learning resources” (Beeman & Urow, 2013, p. ix). Developing an expansive communicative repertoire is increasingly important in our globalized world as it allows students to express their multilingual identities and to find common ground in contexts of linguistic and cultural diversity (Rymes, 2014). As well, rapid advancements in technology have dramatically changed how students engage with their peers and the world, as multilingualism and multimodality are the norm (Blackledge & Creese, 2014). By supporting heteroglossic practices, bilingual schools can empower multilingual students to draw on their expansive communicative repertoires to participate in and contribute to culturally and linguistically diverse societies.

Research Topic

Within Spanish-English bilingual programs worldwide, there is diversity in terms of program models, student populations, and sociopolitical contexts. Nevertheless, while there are differences between contexts, previous research has commonly criticized Spanish-English bilingual schools for their monoglossic orientations, which separate instructional languages by creating strict divisions of “one-language only” instructional times and classroom spaces that prohibit students and teachers from drawing on their multilingual repertoires (Cummins, 2007; de Mejía, 2006; García, 2013; Naqvi, Schmidt, & Krickhan, 2014). This language separation approach does not recognize the fluid language practices and identities of multilingual students (García, 2013).

In order to explore how bilingual schools can negotiate the “multilingual turn” (May, 2014) from a monoglossic bias toward a more heteroglossic paradigm, I am proposing a comparative case study across three Spanish-English bilingual schools in Canada, Colombia, and the United States. The schools in my study will be selected based on an expressed interest by administrators and teachers to explore the interplay of instructional languages in their own school context through more heteroglossic approaches. By comparing across models and countries, my study will provide a meta-perspective on how heteroglossic approaches support the entirety of students’ communicative repertoires and language identities. The study will also demonstrate the need for flexibility in adapting programs, policies and practices to local bilingual school contexts.

While there is significant research on Spanish-English bilingual education in the United States, less research has been conducted about heteroglossic approaches to Spanish-English bilingual programs in the context of Canada and Colombia. In Canada, for example, bilingual programs that include minority languages have not been examined to the same extent, as research has focused largely on French immersion (Dressler, 2018), though Spanish-English programs exist in public and Catholic schools exist in some western Canadian provinces. In Colombia, most bilingual education research in Latin America focuses on Indigenous Bilingual Education (IBE) programs (see López & Sichra for a historical overview of IBE programs). Nonetheless, Spanish-English bilingual programs play a significant role in public and private education throughout Latin America (Hamel, 2008). I will draw on Colombia-based research to the extent possible, but will also draw on research conducted more broadly in Latin America when necessary. My proposed study contributes to the identified need for research about Spanish-English bilingual schools in Canada and Colombia, while engaging in comparisons with the more robust field of research about Spanish-English bilingual education in the United States.

Bilingual Education Models

Bilingual education is “the regular use of two or more languages for teaching and learning in instructional settings when bilingualism and biliteracy are two of the explicit learning goals” (Abello-Contesse, Chandler, López-Jiménez, & Chacón-Beltrán, 2013, p. 4). Within this general definition, there are various models of bilingual programs worldwide. In the U.S., a substantial body of research has focused on Spanish-English bilingual programs, especially two way or dual-language immersion (DLI) programs, which are increasingly common in many states. In these programs, instruction takes place in English and an additional language, most commonly Spanish. One unique characteristic of these programs is the typical inclusion of “native” and “non-native” speakers of both English and the additional language. Early models of bilingual education in the U.S. were focused on helping minoritized students learn English. In the late 20th century, DLI programs emerged and changed the focus from transitioning immigrant children into English-only programs to promoting the learning of two languages by both majority (English-speaking) and minoritized (Spanish-speaking) children. According to Alvear (2019), by bringing together students from mixed linguistic backgrounds, DLI programs exemplify additive approaches to bilingualism and biculturalism. However, DLI programs have been heavily criticized, as many believe they have moved away from a focus on supporting minoritized students to prioritizing the learning of an additional language for English speakers (Flores, 2013; Sánchez, García, & Solorza, 2018; Valdés, 1997).

In contrast, Canada has long been a forerunner of one-way immersion models. Research has consistently demonstrated the success of French immersion programs in supporting students’ first and second language acquisition, as well as academic achievement (Genesee, 2004). Typically, these immersion programs have been defined by the following characteristics: the role of L2 (second language) as medium-of-instruction; immersion curriculum parallel to local curriculum; ongoing support for L1 (first language); additive over replacive bilingualism; limited exposure to L2 outside of the classroom; no prior L2 before entering program; bilingual teachers and the classroom culture reflecting the L1 community (Genesee, 2004; Johnson & Swain, 1997). There are other bilingual models in Canada, especially in the western provinces. For example, Alberta has been a leader in promoting alternative bilingual programs (APB) since the 1970s when it legalized the use of instructional languages besides French and English (Cummins, 2014). These programs are now offered in Arabic, German, Hebrew, Mandarin, Polish, Spanish, and Ukrainian (Alberta Education, 2007) with Spanish bilingual programs alone serving over 3,000 students. There is evidence of growth of Spanish-English bilingual programs within other western provinces as well, such Manitoba’s first Spanish-English bilingual program, which opened in 2016 and British Columbia’s Memorandum of Understanding with Spain to support the opening of bilingual programs (British Columbia, 2016). Yet, these ABPs differ significantly from French immersion models as they may only include up to 50% of instruction in the target language, while French immersion models allow up to 100% of instruction in French (Naqvi, Schmidt, & Krickhan, 2014). Naqvi et al. have argued that ABPs often borrow pedagogical approaches from French immersion programs, even though some of these approaches have been heavily criticized for the separation, instead of integration, of instructional languages (Cummins, 2007).

In Colombia, as in other Latin American countries, there are one-way Spanish-English bilingual programs in both public and private spheres. De Mejía (2002) described private bilingual schools as international or national bilingual schools, which are typically founded by non-nationals and have close contact with the founder’s country of origin. These schools normally follow an early one-way full immersion model and serve a monolingual Spanish-speaking population who are interested in pursuing educational opportunities in English-speaking Europe or North America. As such, the curriculum tends to be British, American, or a unified international curriculum (such as the International Baccalaureate), instead of a national curriculum. Hamel (2008) explained that the private bilingual schools have become prestigious and serve the economic and power elites of this region. In contrast, national bilingual schools have been founded by local administrators and the majority of teachers are Spanish-speaking locals of the region. They typically follow either a partial or full one-way immersion model but are less likely to follow an international curriculum, compared to international bilingual schools. In 2004, the Colombian government instituted the National Bilingual Program which has led to the implementation of some Spanish-English bilingual programs in public schools in various regions (Valencia, 2013).

Language Separation

While there are several differences between the types of bilingual models most commonly seen in the U.S., Canada, and Colombia, a commonality is that these models are informed by policies that separate instructional languages. Even though some researchers have recommended that immersion teachers be bilingual (Genesee, 2004; Johnson & Swain, 1997), bilingual programs generally support language separation by both teachers and students in a variety of ways. Often, subjects, teachers and classrooms are assigned one language. In other schools, the same teacher may teach certain classes in one language and some classes in the other instructional language, but at different times. Alternatively, teachers may be assigned only one instructional language regardless of whether or not the teacher is multilingual. In most arrangements, teachers are expected to use one language per lesson or interaction (Ramirez, 1986; Swain & Lapkin, 2013). As well, the approach suggests that teachers should avoid concurrent translation, as the fear is that students will only pay attention to instruction in English (de Jong, 2002), and instead establish sustained periods of monolingual instruction in the second language.

In Latin America, some private bilingual schools keep languages separate to the point of having two separate language programs operating within one school, with separate staff, curriculum and sometimes conflicting pedagogical approaches (Hamel, 2008). In Colombia, private bilingual schools may promote a monolingual ethos by prioritizing English over Spanish as opposed to seeing the two languages as aspects of students’ unified linguistic repertoires (De Mejía, 2013). They emphasize the importance of learning English for material and economic benefits (De Mejía & Montes Rodriguez, 2008). In the Colombian public school context, Gómez Sará (2017) argued that this separation of languages is apparent in the government’s public National Bilingual program where Spanish and English are construed as separate entities, and little emphasis is placed on providing opportunities for students to engage with or compare across languages.

The separation of languages in bilingual programs has been increasingly criticized in Canada, the United States, and Colombia. This separation is built upon the erroneous assumption that multilinguals are actually dual monolinguals (Escobar & Dillard-Paltrineri, 2015; Grosjean, 1989). Within this monolingual approach, language policies call for a strict separation of languages in the classroom and an insistence on students developing dual or separate linguistic systems (García, 2013). García claimed that these attempts to separate students’ languaging practices do not reflect students’ fluid languaging practices and multiple identities. Gort and Pontier (2013) argued that parallel or dual monolingualism does not reflect real-life multilingualism and instead they support an approach that recognizes the fluid interaction of languages. The authors stated that accessing both languages at the same time is an important skill that supports student learning. Naqvi, Schmidt, and Krickhan (2014) argued that programs should encourage the transfer of knowledge and skills to strengthen student engagement as students regularly make cross-linguistic connections as part of their multilingual development.

Conceptual Framework

My study is informed by three key constructs, which move the focus away from viewing students’ languages as separate to viewing students’ languages as part of a unified communicative repertoire. The following three constructs form the study’s conceptual framework: heteroglossia, translanguaging, and critical multilingual language awareness. The construct of heteroglossia, defined below, falls within the broader context of language ideologies. Language ideologies refer to the ways in which societies and individuals represent and interpret language. Woolard (1998) described language ideology as a “representation, whether explicit or implicit, that construes the intersection of language and human beings in a social world” (p. 3). As a field, language ideologies draws into focus some of the underlying reasons for why language separation occurs within bilingual programs by elucidating questions such as how individuals view languages (Blackledge & Creese, 2013; May, 2014), how and why hierarchies of languages are constructed and enacted in certain social spaces and historical contexts (Makoni & Pennycook, 2007) and why certain languaging practices are considered more valuable than others (García, 2009).

More specifically, I am interested in exploring language ideologies that reflect and promote monoglossia or heteroglossia, seen as two ends of a continuum. A monoglossic language ideology encourages a hierarchy of named languages, as individuals’ languages are viewed as separate, as opposed to part of a shared linguistic system. Hornberger (2003) noted that even in multilingual societies, monolingualism is often seen as more powerful. Monoglossic language ideologies condition a hierarchy of named languages by treating languages as separate and by encouraging some to be considered as more valuable than others. In contrast, Busch (2014) argued that, based on Bakhtin and Holquist’s (1981) original definition of heteroglossia, schools should both acknowledge students’ repertoires of different languages and communicative resources and demonstrate a commitment to engage in multilingual and multimodal meaning-making as they discover their own voices. Within the context of the proposed study, heteroglossia as a language ideology serves as part of the conceptual framework for understanding key aspects of the bilingual programs in my study. By drawing on monoglossia and heteroglossia as constructs, I will explore the spectrum of language ideologies that inform program models, language policies and languaging practices within each school context.

The second construct in my conceptual framework is translanguaging, one of the most contested theories in recent years in the field of bilingual education as it pushes against traditional notions of language separation. Originally introduced in Wales (Williams, 1994), the concept was translated into English by Baker in 2001. It originally referred to a pedagogical practice in bilingual schools in Wales where teachers and students moved between Welsh and English for a variety of classroom literacy tasks. While this type of language “mixing” was considered problematic at the time, Williams reframed these practices, arguing that the practice provided students and teachers the opportunity to draw on their linguistic resources by generating meaning together (Li, 2017). Since Williams’ original use of the term, translanguaging has been taken up in various ways, which Hamman (2018) has classified as: 1) theory of practice; 2) theory of the mind; and 3) pedagogical method. Translanguaging as a pedagogical method informs the Collaborative Learning through Multilingual Inquiry (CLMI) (Prasad, 2018) approach I describe in the section on data generation. With respect to my conceptual framework, I will focus on translanguaging as a theory of practice and theory of the mind. The former describes the languaging practices of multilinguals and refers to the “multiple discursive practices in which bilinguals engage in order to make sense of their bilingual worlds” (García, 2009, p. 45). For example, Li (2017) described how multilingual Chinese-English speakers create new words which follow the morphological rules of English, yet connect with the meaning of a Chinese word. While moving fluidly back and forth between languages has often been criticized and seen as deficient in some way, translanguaging reframes these practices as dynamic and legitimate. Translanguaging, from the theory of practice lens, is the “deployment of a speaker’s full linguistic repertoire without regard for watchful adherence to the socially and politically defined boundaries of named (and usually national and state) languages” (Otheguy, García, & Reid, 2015, p. 281).

Translanguaging as a theory of the mind is more controversial. It refers to the mental grammar of a multilingual person and there is debate about how this cognitive collection of features corresponds to individual languages. On the one hand, Otheguy, García, and Reid (2015) have argued that there is only one grammar that multilinguals select from to communicate. Others, like MacSwan (2017), have criticized this view of the multilingual brain and have argued that multilinguals do not have a single grammar but instead have an integrated multilingual grammar. In this view, the multilingual mind includes overlapping aspects of grammar from various languages but there are still discrete grammars associated with the different named languages. MacSwan has argued that while translanguaging is useful as a practice and pedagogy, he rejects it as a theory to explain the multilingual mind. While the question of whether there is a unitary or integrated mental grammar requires ongoing investigation, for the purpose of this study I am drawing primarily on translanguaging as a theory of practice which criticizes the dual competence model of multilingualism in which languages are seen as completely discrete linguistic systems within the multilingual brain. Translanguaging provides a lens by which to understand multilinguals’ languaging practices as dynamic and unified, as opposed to static and separate. This understanding of translanguaging is especially useful for my study which explores the presence of this monoglossic view of languages as discrete and totally separate, as common within bilingual schools. Drawing on translanguaging as a theory to explain multilingual language practices provides theoretical grounding for this study’s exploration of how schools can move toward approaches which support how multilinguals engage with language. As noted by García and Lin (2017), translanguaging in the classroom can be transformative as it resists the hierarchy of languages so common in bilingual programs while also allowing students to engage in dynamic languaging practices which support the development of all their languages.

The final construct I draw on for my conceptual framework is Language Awareness (LA). LA was originally introduced by Bolitho and Tomlinson (1980), though it became more widely known through the work of Eric Hawkins (1984). Hawkins originally proposed Language Awareness as a “bridging subject” to address a lack of coherence between various aspects of language education within the UK school system. For Hawkins, the primary purpose of LA was to encourage students to ask questions about language, something often taken for granted. Outside of seeing the development of LA as a bridge between various aspects of language education, Hawkins also saw LA as an avenue to promote classroom discussions around linguistic diversity and prejudice. In 1991, James and Garrett made a significant contribution to the field through their description of five key domains of LA: cognitive, affective, performance, social and power.

While attention to linguistic diversity and questions of power were present in both Hawkins’ (1984) and James and Garrett’s (1991) conceptions of LA, and further emphasized in the use of the term Critical Language Awareness by Fairclough (1990), recent reviews have criticized LA scholarship for not paying sufficient attention to issues of power (Fairclough, 2014; Svalberg, 2016). García (2017) has drawn explicit attention to questions of power in her call for Critical Multilingual Language Awareness (CMLA). Within this approach, García emphasized that schools must become places that recognize and draw students’ attention to the existence of multilingualism in societies and how language has traditionally been constructed in schools in ways that privilege certain groups. García argued that schools must go farther than drawing attention to these histories of inequality to providing spaces for all students to leverage their linguistic repertoires as they make sense of their multilingual worlds. While recognizing that schools should help students develop standard varieties of named languages, García also called on schools to see students’ bilingualism as dynamic, not simply additive, and to acknowledge “the fluid language practices of bilinguals. . . as an important voice-giving mechanism and as a tool for learning, creativity, and criticality” (p. 7). Within this approach, García argued that teachers must “engage all students in developing a consciousness of language as social practice and a voicing of their own multilingual experiences, thus generating not only a new order of discourse, but also a new praxis, capable of changing the social order of what it means to ‘language’ in school” (p. 7). Through CMLA, educators can foster linguistically expansive learning spaces that support collaborative cross-linguistic comparison across students’ different languages (García & Lin, 2017).

In my proposed study, CMLA will serve as a lens to focus attention on the relationships between language and social dynamics of power and inequality. The original facets of Language Awareness emphasized the importance of drawing students’ attention to the connections between named languages. CMLA continues to emphasize the relationships between languages but places questions of power at the center of these discussions.

Taken together, heteroglossia, translanguaging and CMLA provide the conceptual lens for my analysis of bilingual education programs, policies, and practices. Heteroglossia provides an understanding of language as multivoiced and varied and stands in direct contrast to the prevalent monoglossic approaches which have been noted in bilingual education and are central to my research questions. I draw on the rapidly growing body of recent literature on translanguaging to explore how multilingual students engage in languaging practices, both inside and outside of bilingual classrooms. Finally, CMLA draws explicit attention to questions of power, which are essential as my study explores the negotiation away from monoglossic approaches within specific social and political school contexts.

Research Questions

The purpose of this proposed study will be to explore how and if Spanish-English bilingual schools are negotiating a move toward a more heteroglossic approach to bilingual education. The main research question and the sub-questions are:

What are the barriers and opportunities faced by the three Spanish-English bilingual schools in this study as they move toward a more heteroglossic approach to Spanish-English bilingual education?

    • How do government and school program models and language policies promote and/or constrain a heteroglossic approach?
    • How do classroom practices (instructional, learning and languaging) that students and teachers engage in promote and/or constrain the development of students’ heteroglossic communicative repertoires?


This qualitative study will explore how program models, language policies and languaging practices in three elementary Spanish-English bilingual schools, one each in Canada, Colombia, and the U.S., are negotiating a move toward a heteroglossic paradigm that supports the development of students’ communicative repertoires. The schools will be chosen based on an expressed interest by participants in exploring heteroglossic approaches to bilingual education. I will conduct a Comparative Case Study (CCS) (Bartlett & Vavrus, 2017) to compare how schools engage with heteroglossic approaches across different models and contexts. CCS is a process-oriented approach to case study in which “one constantly compares and contrasts phenomena and processes in one locale with what has happened in other places and historical moments” (p. 19). According to Bartlett and Vavrus, explicit comparison has been under-utilized in qualitative research, and has been notably absent in case study research. Bartlett and Vavrus dew on socio-cultural understandings of how processes are culturally situated and produced, as well as critical approaches which emphasize the role of power and inequality in social constructions. They argued that comparisons across sites and scales are important for a variety of reasons: they allow the researcher to see both how processes are influenced by unique contexts, and how different contexts can at times produce similar outcomes.

In order to explore how policies are enacted in various places, CCS employs a multi-sited and multi-scalar approach. Bartlett and Vavrus described three fundamental axes of comparison within the CCS approach: vertical, horizontal, and transversal. The vertical axis focuses on comparison across different scales, such as how policies are enacted at local versus national levels. The horizontal axis compares how similar policies are enacted in different places, emphasizing how places are socially constructed and connected in complex ways. The transversal axis focuses on how processes under consideration are historically situated.

I have selected CCS as it provides a structure to compare schools across diverse contexts while focusing on how bilingual program models, policies and classroom languaging practices are socially constructed and influenced by questions of power and inequality, specifically in regard to language hierarchies. For the purposes of my study, the vertical axis will focus on comparisons across different scales within one context (how language policy is described within government documents versus its enactment within individual classrooms). The horizontal axis will compare homologous units of analysis across three different Spanish-English bilingual schools. The transversal axis will focus on how each school is situated within the historical context of bilingual education in their country, and how the findings are situated within the larger context of the field of bilingual education in a particular historical moment.

To conduct this study, I will examine three public elementary schools, one each in Canada, the United States, and Colombia. All three locations have Spanish-English bilingual programs operating within the country’s public schools. While I have lived, worked and taught in both Canada and the U.S.A, I have not lived in Colombia but it is a key player in the field of bilingual education in Latin America, primarily linked to the research conducted by De Mejía (2002, 2006, 2013) regarding private bilingual schools in Colombia. More recently, public bilingual schools have increased in Colombia with the implementation of the National Bilingual Program in 2004 (Gómez Sará, 2017). Yet, some Colombian researchers such as have been critical of new public bilingual schools. Usma Wilches (2015) argued that there is a clear link between monoglossic language ideologies espoused by bilingual schools and similar ideologies noted by De Mejía (2013) in private bilingual schools in Colombia.

The choice to focus on a comparison of public bilingual schools is because private bilingual schools are often not obligated to follow government program models and language policies to the same extent as public schools, and this policy analysis is an important aspect of my study. By comparing across public schools in Colombia, Canada and the United States, I will be able to analyzegovernment program models and language policies that would not be possible within the private school sector.

The three schools will be selected based upon their interest in addressing questions regarding language separation through a more heteroglossic approach. Together with teachers and students, I will consider how each school has constructed their school ethos, focusing specifically on their bilingual model, language policies and languaging practices and the impact of the schools’ models, policies and practices on students’ communicative repertoires.

Generating Data

In each school setting, I will generate data in three phases over the course of three months for each phase, for a total of nine months. Figure 1 shows an overview of the three phases.

Figure 1

Figure 1: Research Design Phases

I will generate data at each school site in a consecutive approach, beginning with School #1 (the U.S.), followed by School #2 (Canada), and then School #3 (Colombia). This order is intentional, as I will begin with the geographical context in which I am currently located and the bilingual context I have most recently been conducting research in. Then, I will move to the Canadian site, my passport country. Here, I will be able to draw on my knowledge of the Canadian public school system, as well as other cultural norms, to effectively become integrated into a new school context. Finally, I will conduct research in Colombia, the country I am least familiar with. I will thus be able to draw on the knowledge gained in the data generation within the USA and Canadian schools to adapt any steps as needed.

In Phase 1, I will gather documents about the school and the corresponding government guidelines regarding the program model and language policies. At the government level, I will access publicly available documents such as: an overview of school programs, best practices for instruction, and guidelines for classroom language use. At the school level, I will collect publicly available documents such as: teacher and student handbooks, teacher training materials, promotional materials, class schedules, curriculum plans, and school newsletters. A thematic analysis of these documents will be conducted to elucidate the government and schools’ bilingual program model and language policies.

In Phase 2, I will engage in three types of data generation: classroom observations, student and teacher interviews and multilingual classroom activities based upon the principles of CLMI (Prasad, 2018). I will begin with classroom observations in six classrooms at various grade levels and subject areas. Teachers will be informed about the study and will be invited to participate based on their interest in exploring heteroglossic approaches in their classrooms. Observations will be videotaped and guided by a classroom observation protocol focused on teachers’ and students’ languaging practices. I will conduct my observations as an active participant in the classroom, depending on the norms established by each school and individual teachers. As an active participant, I will engage in informal conversations with students about their work during class time if the opportunity presents itself and if approved in advance by teachers.

Student and teacher interviews will be semi-structured, guided by an interview protocol informed by the data generated during classroom observations. I will take notes during the interview to document any non-verbal behaviours (Patton, 2002). All interviews will be conducted bilingually as participants will be encouraged to draw from their own communicative repertoires. All interviews will be audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim.

For teachers, I will conduct semi-structured individual interviews from each of the six classrooms where observations were completed. Interviews will focus on understanding how teachers perceive their students’, as well as their own, current languaging practices within the classroom. Interviews will be arranged at the teachers’ convenience and last approximately 60-90 minutes.

I will conduct focus group interviews with students from upper elementary classes where I conduct observations. These grades have been selected as they provide insight into students’ perspectives while keeping in mind the suggested minimum age of eight for focus groups (Clark, 2011). Student focus group interviews will center on understanding which languaging practices students identify as being currently employed within the classroom setting, and their beliefs about the effectiveness of these practices. I will use questions to guide the discussion, rather than using a set of structured questions that must be uniformly addressed to allow the conversation to be guided by what participants consider important, as the richest answers may be missed if the discussion content is strictly controlled (Clark, 2011). The use of open-ended questions, related to the students’ experiences, will promote engagement with the topic (Fargas-Malet, McSherry, Larkin, & Robinson, 2010). Focus group interviews will take place during regular school hours and will be between 45 and 60 minutes, depending on the age of each group.

Based on the information generated during the initial observations and interviews, I will co-plan with teachers a variety of Language Awareness activities (Hawkins, 1984) to draw students’ attention to connections between languages and to view their languages as part of a unified communicative repertoire. These activities will be based on the design principles outlined by Prasad (2018) in her CLMI approach and will be adapted to the school context. Throughout the planning and implementation of these activities, observations and interviews will be ongoing, as I continue to reflect and learn together with teachers and students on engagement in heteroglossic approaches to bilingual education.

Data Analysis

As described above, a large volume of data will be generated over the course of 9 months at the three different school sites. Here, I outline the main approach to data analysis, which will occur concurrently with data generation. According to Miles, Huberman and Saldaña (2014), concurrent data generation and analysis provides a number of key advantages to the researcher, including the collection of higher-quality data as potential blind spots and new data sources can be identified during the data generation stage.

During Phase 1 at each school, I will engage in a document analysis and then describe each case’s stated language policies and bilingual model according to the government and the school. At the end of Phase 2, I will use the CCS approach to conduct an in-depth data on three axes: vertical (within school), horizontal (between schools) and transversal (within the historical context of bilingual education). Next, I will conduct a vertical analysis to explore how these identified practices conform or conflict with the government and the schools’ stated bilingual program model and language policies, through the lens of Policy as Practice (Levinson, Sutton, & Winstead, 2009). Then, I will compare findings horizontally across schools to explore how each school’s program models and language policies are described and enacted and how these differ according to context. Finally, I will engage in a transversal analysis to explore how the findings fit within the field of bilingual education research, with a specific focus on identifying key implications for implementing heteroglossic approaches within various school models and contexts.

My overall approach to analysis will draw on Creswell’s (2013) Data Analysis Spiral. This approach includes four main steps: data managing; reading/ memoing; describing/ classifying/ interpreting; and representing/ visualizing. In the first step, I will organize the various data sources primarily through the use of Dedoose, a Computer Assisted Qualitative Data Analysis Software (CAQDAS) program. As noted by Miles et al. (2014), CAQDAS are especially helpful in organizing data when working across multiple sites. During the second step, I will read the data on multiple occasions and write memos in response to my reading.

In both the third and fourth steps, I will draw primarily on the coding and visualizing methods outlined in detail by Saldaña (2016). Saldaña recommended coding in two major stages: first cycle and second cycle coding. In first cycle coding, the researcher focuses primarily on assigning codes to chunks of data. For this section, I will employ line-by-line Initial Coding which is especially useful when dealing with various data sources (Saldaña, 2016). Initial Coding is an inductive approach in which the researcher uses various forms of “open coding”, such as InVivo codes, to begin to categorize and describe the data. In second cycle coding, I will then focus on analyzing the data chunks and their corresponding codes identified in the first cycle. In this cycle, I will primarily draw on Pattern Coding, a method to group data into categories, themes or concepts (Saldaña, 2016). During this stage of the analysis, I will begin to move into the final stage of the Data Analysis Cycle, by beginning to engage in visualizing the data through various matrices and networks (Miles et al., 2014). These types of visual displays will allow data representation in a more condensed way and ensure a clear focus on the key findings.

Ethical Considerations

Throughout the study, I will follow ethical guidelines as determined by both my university’s Institutional Review Board, as well as those established in the context of each specific school or district. As a result of my association with a prestigious U.S. university and perceived benefits of this association, there may be a power imbalance between myself, the school or the teachers, which could lead to them feeling pressured to participate in the study, with the belief that it may benefit them or their school somehow. In order to minimize this risk, I will emphasize that they are under no obligation to participate and may withdraw at any time. I will also explain that the purpose of the study is to learn about heteroglossic approaches to bilingual education in various contexts and that my intention is not to criticize a specific teacher, school administration, or what is currently happening in the school.


A number of factors maximize the trustworthiness of qualitative research (Guba & Lincoln, 1985): credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability. Credibility, which refers to truth of the data or its truth value (Miles et al., 2014), will be established for this study through prolonged engagement in the field. My data collection will take place over the course of 3 months in each school site, allowing me to develop some knowledge of the workings of the school. Transferability, which refers to the ability for a set of conclusions from one study to be applied elsewhere (Guba & Lincoln, 1985), will be developed through a thick description of each research site. This will include a description of the participants, the school, and key aspects of the educational context in each of the three  countries. By including thick description, another researcher could consider how findings from my study may inform studies in other bilingual schools. For dependability, which refers to whether or not the research process is consistent and stable over time and across researchers and methods (Miles et al., 2014), I will create an audit trail through detailed notes on the entire research process. Finally, I will promote confirmability, which indicates whether the study reflects neutrality and has acknowledged potential research bias (Miles et al., 2014), by practicing reflexivity throughout my study. From the consideration of why I have chosen this research question to careful consideration of the factors that influence the schools where I conduct my study, I will consider my relationship to the research. During the data analysis process, I will continually reflect upon whether I am letting the participants’ actual words speak or imposing my own perceptions.


While there are many benefits to my study for the field of Spanish-English bilingual programs, I am also aware of the potential risks associated with my study. Primarily, I am aware of the risk of linguistic misunderstandings inherent in multilingual research. While I am proficient in Spanish and have conducted research in bilingual schools in both Honduras and the United States, I plan to enlist the help of a bilingual research assistant in moderating the focus groups. I believe misinterpretation based on language is more likely within focus groups, simply because of the dynamic nature of those conversations. I will also engage a bilingual research assistant to help with the transcribing process to avoid any potential misunderstandings on my part. I will also consider cultural differences within each geographical context, continually reflecting on my position as an outsider within each school setting, and how my own positionality impacts the questions I ask and data analysis.


Spanish-English bilingual schools continue to grow numerically in a variety of geographical contexts. Yet, criticisms persist regarding many schools’ outdated approach in viewing students’ languages as separate and distinct. My research will help reframe bilingual programs by viewing them from a heteroglossic paradigm in which students’ proficiency in various languages are seen as part of their expansive and expanding holistic communicative repertoires (Blackledge & Creese, 2014; Prasad, 2014). Supporting the development of students’ repertoires is essential in a rapidly globalizing world in which students encounter linguistic and cultural diversity both in their schools and in their engagement in transnational digital communication. My research explores heteroglossic approaches in three elementary Spanish-English bilingual schools, one each in Canada, Colombia, and the United States. By comparing across models and across countries, my study will provide a meta-perspective to further understand how heteroglossic approaches within bilingual schools can support the entirety of students’ communicative repertoires and will provide key implications on how to develop programs, policies and practices which support multilingual students.


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