New Book on Transnational Youth Helps Educators Teach Students Who Straddle Multiple Cultures and Lands
Allison Skerrett, associate professor at The University of Texas at Austin College of Education, recently published a book for educators and researchers, Teaching Transnational Youth: Literacy and Education in a Changing World.
A Q&A with the language and literacy professor explores just who “transnational youth” are, how her interest in the topic developed, and how her book helps teachers and researchers understand the educational needs and gifts of a diverse population of students who straddle multiple cultures and lands.
What does the term “transnational youth” mean?
Transnational youth are young people who live across two or more countries—spending significant amounts of time in each (for instance, across a year) and maintaining deep ties to each of the places they live. Often they belong to families who are transnational, so their living “here and there” occurs as part of their families’ transnational lifestyle; but there are also youths who have their own transnational experiences independent of their families’ movements.
What specific needs does this book address?
Although literacy scholars have been investigating how transnational youths use reading, writing, and other literacy practices in outside-school contexts to sustain their lifestyles and identities, this book is the first to investigate educational practices that can promote transnational students’ learning in school.
The book offers approaches to literacy curriculum and instruction through which literacy educators can learn about their transnational students’ educational experiences, challenges, resources and academic needs and use what they learn to promote these students’ academic development. Importantly, the book describes how teaching with more awareness of transnationalism ultimately supports the academic development of all students in the classroom.
How did your interest in this topic develop?
I immigrated to the U.S. from the Caribbean island of Dominica as an adolescent, and growing up on Dominica, my family was transnational in that my father worked in other countries, given the economic hardships on Dominica. He would be away for six months at a time before he was able to come home for a visit for two weeks. Thus I have a strong identity in relation to the phenomenon of transnationalism.
I was also an English teacher in the Boston Public Schools before entering doctoral studies, and I had students each year who were transnational. At the time I did not have the term, awareness, or professional knowledge that would have allowed me to understand these students’ lifestyles, resources, and educational needs, and be responsive in my curriculum and teaching. Later, as a teacher educator and researcher at UT Austin, I conducted research in an Austin classroom that included transnational students. I began to focus on transnational students’ educational experiences and conceptualize curriculum and instructional approaches that can promote their academic development.
What are the findings about transnational youth in the classroom? What do they bring to the classroom that educators may be missing, for example?
Transnational students face a unique and severe challenge in literacy development because they must learn through different curriculum and instructional approaches of two or more nations. The research of migration scholars concludes that these challenges result in poor academic outcomes, academic disengagement, and dropout of transnational students from one or more of the schools they attend.
However, literacy research also paints a vibrant picture of the outside-school literate lives and capabilities of transnational youths. For instance, literacy scholarship portrays how transnational youths use reading, writing, and other literacy practices in outside-school contexts to sustain their transnational lifestyles and identities. As one example, transnational students often engage in digital literacies, using social media and the web, to maintain social relationships across the different countries in which they live. Literacy research also reveals how transnational youths develop special forms of intercultural and world knowledge, and expand their linguistic knowledge and language practices, through participating in transnational life.
Dr. Skerrett recently gave two lectures based in her book at the University of California Berkeley. She will be presenting on her book at the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention in Minneapolis in November and at the Literacy Research Association’s Annual Conference in Carlsbad, CA., in December. Dr. Skerrett is currently teaching from her book in a course titled “Teaching Secondary English and Reading” at the University of Texas at Austin this fall. She has received two university research awards to conduct additional research in spring 2016 in a high school English classroom that includes transnational students.
Interview conducted by M. Yvonne Taylor