Identity Texts in Multilingual Classrooms

Subject: Linguistics
Pages: 2
Words: 632
Reading time:
3 min
Study level: Master

The world has changed — we have been living in a globalized society for quite a long time. Under that “we,” I mean the population of the economically developed Global North: Canada, the USA, and Western Europe. “We” are facing a trend of increased migration from the so-called Global South — the developing countries of Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. These people and their children have to adapt to our societies, and learning a new language, most commonly — English is a crucial part of that adaptation. However, the necessity to learn English should not force them to abandon their cultural identity. The use of identity texts provides an opportunity to integrate English language learning (ELL) students into our communities instead of alienating them.

The existing approach to teaching English implies the separation of English from other languages. According to Hall and Cooke, the English-only ideology is dominant even in linguistically and culturally diverse classrooms (as cited in Krulatz & Iversen, 2019). Such teaching technique can be compared to teaching swimming by throwing somebody in the water. Certain students would probably adapt and show excellent progress, but many would feel alienated and abandoned. Cummins et al. (2006) provided a perfect example in the words of Hira, a grade 5 student, who wrote that “teacher gives me very little work because I can’t speak in English.” Therefore, identity texts have an inherent value of giving a chance to ELL students to express themselves. I would use them in work with ELL students in the way described by Cummins. I would let them self-express in their native language and bolster their confidence. That would also open those students to their more English-proficient classmates from a new, positive perspective.

From the social point of view, the use of identity texts would help to integrate immigrants children into our society, but the needed changes to teaching techniques would be challenging to implement. Cummins et al. (2017) provided an example of the dual-language book The New Country, written by three 7 grade Pakistani-origin students under the guidance of their Canadian teacher. If our teachers show that they care about ELL students from other countries as persons, those students will respect our culture and countries in return. In my opinion, that outcome is preferable to raising people who have a fluent command of English but hate us, our culture, and our lifestyle. From the academic point of view, the better inclusion of ELL students into the learning process would improve their academic self-confidence (Cummins & Early, as cited in Cummins et al., 2017). However, that would require sufficient effort from language teachers since they often lack the knowledge to educate multilingual populations (Krulatz & Iversen, 2019). The strict teaching practices imposed by educational bodies might also hamper the use of identity texts.

I am a monolingual person, so if I had to learn a new foreign language from the basics, identity texts would help me significantly. I can only imagine how hard it is to be discouraged from using your native language while your proficiency in a new language is still poor. Identity texts would help me to break that initial language barrier early on when it is needed the most. They would also be immeasurably valuable if I had to learn a language of a completely foreign nation, such as Chinese or Japanese.

Therefore, the use of identity texts in multilingual classrooms is challenging but important and potentially beneficial. They can assist with the integration of immigrants into our society and facilitate the creation of mutually respectful relationships in which both sides preserve their identities. However, certain barriers to their widespread use are still existing, and while the teachers can master new techniques, the educational bureaucracy and old habits can pose a much harder challenge.


Cummins, J., Bismilla, V., Chow, P., Cohen, S., Giampapa, F., Leoni, L., Sandhu, P., & Sastri, P. (2006). ELL students speak for themselves: Identity texts and literacy engagement in multilingual classrooms.

Cummins, J., Ntelioglou, B. Y., Prasad, G., & Stille, S. (2017). Identity text projects. In J.B. Cummings & M.L. Blatherwick (Eds.), Creative dimensions of teaching and learning in the 21st century (pp. 69-76). SensePublishers, Rotterdam.

Krulatz, A., & Iversen, J. (2019). Building inclusive language classroom spaces through multilingual writing practices for newly-arrived students in Norway. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 64(3), 372-388. Web.