College Launches New Podcast on Research and Scholarship

November 15, 2022
COE Connections Episode 1 Graphic

The San Diego State University College of Education has launched COE Connections, a new podcast on research and scholarship in the college.

In our first episode, Melissa A. Navarro Martell, assistant professor in the Department of Dual Language and English Learner Education, joins interim associate dean for research Rachel Haine-Schlagel to discuss her research into the need to prepare critically-conscious multilingual educators.

Listen on Soundcloud and Apple Podcasts.

Rachel Haine-Schlagel:

Welcome to “COE Connections,” The SDSU College of Education, Research and Scholarship Podcast Series.

I'm your host, Rachel Haine-Schlagel. I'm the Interim Associate Dean for Research for the College of Education, and also an associate professor of child and family development here at San Diego State University, which is a Hispanic Serving Institution in the land of the Kumeyaay.

I want to start out by talking a little bit about why we're doing this podcast. The original thought that I had was to really help faculty get to know each other's work. Provide another avenue that — we have a lot of avenues in our college for learning about each other's work — and a podcast seemed like another tool to add another opportunity for faculty to get to know what each other are doing. 

We are very busy, and we don't have as much time and opportunities to really just talk with each other as we'd all like. And then, as I was developing this, and talking with faculty about the idea, I really realized that the podcast could have some additional potential purposes, and one would be to inform our incredible graduate and undergraduate students about the amazing work that we do here and get folks excited to be a part of our research and to hopefully develop research and scholarship skills that they can take with them when they leave SDSU and have an an even greater impact on the world.

And also this, I think podcasts can help us share with the community the impactful work that our college does, and trying to help communities change for the better. And give credit to the communities that are working so hard to collaborate with us, and and often, you know, maybe not getting as much in return as we would like them to.

This is our first episode of the series, and I'm joined today by Doctora Melissa Navarro Martell. Melissa is an assistant professor in the department of dual language and English learner Education.

She earned her Ph.D. From the joint doctoral program in education between SDSU and Claremont Graduate University in 2018.

She studies the preparation of critically-conscious multilingual educators on the socio-political, ideological, cultural and linguistic aspects of bilingual teacher preparation.

She specifically focuses on K-8 equitable stem and dual-language education. In other words, how dual-language teachers can support student stem learning across languages.

She's recently been honored by AERA, The American Educational Research Association, for her work by receiving an Early Career Researcher Best Paper award.

Her experiences as an immigrant sixth grade teacher from Tijuana, Mexico inspired her path as an educator who understands bilingual and multilingual learners. Doctora Navarro Martell is a former fourth and eighth grade social justice math and science, Spanish-English dual language teacher,

And I want to say, before I welcome Melissa, that she just turned in her first big grant to NSF last night. So we are so appreciative that she's here today to talk to me about her work. Welcome, Melissa, and thank you so much for being my guinea pig as we start this journey of sharing about the work and lives of our amazing faculty.

Before we get started. I want to mention I'm in my office in Lamden Hall. Where are you today?

Melissa A. Navarro Martell:

I'm also in Lamden Hall.

Rachel Haine-Schlagel:

Oh, great! 

Melissa A. Navarro Martell:

And thank you for having me, 

Rachel Haine-Schlagel:

I’m really excited to have you here. So I have a few questions prepared to ask you, and let's see how many we get through. My first is, why do you study the need to prepare critically-conscious, multilingual educators?

Melissa A. Navarro Martell:

I'm going to say that there's two reasons, and the first one is personal, the second one is a little bit more on the professional side. And so, as you mentioned, I was an immigrant child, and so when I came to the country, I couldn't express myself or communicate in English. And so I was able to show my teachers by doing math, and by completing science projects that I knew something and that I had something to contribute to the learning community in my classroom. 

And so I always thought of math and science as being these vehicles to demonstrate that I do have something to contribute. So I guess you could say that math and science were ways that I challenged my teachers and their deficit thinking that they may, or may not have known that, you know, they were adopting in how they were treating me.

And then, as a dual-language teacher, I was teaching fourth and eighth grade, and I had to teach science and math and English, and in Spanish, and there were very limited materials that were translated that made sense in Spanish, that made sense to me and to my students, or even examples that were relevant to me and to my students.

And so this is why I decided to go back to school to get my Ph.D. — to study how to better prepare bilingual science teachers, bilingual math teachers, and so that in turn connects to my professional reason of why I study this topic.

And now, as a researcher, and as I continue learning, I'm realizing there's very limited research on how to prepare bilingual kinder through eighth grade STEM teachers. And this kind of connects to the idea that, even for myself, I didn't consider myself a math person or a science person, and then having to teach math, science in middle school was even a challenge, because it was a fear. How am I going to be the best teacher for my students if I'm not an expert in science or math

And so how do I address that also in my methods classes with my students, that for the majority, since two thousand and fourteen, they also say, i'm not a math person. I'm not a science person.

And so I want to make sure that teachers can understand that through, you know, participating in in these courses and experiences that I created my classes that everyone can be a math and science person.

And also professionally just thinking about how the standards do not center multilingual learners. As a matter of fact, in the next generation science standards, there's an Appendix D. That talks about how to teach those kids, and they still use language like limited English proficient students, which is a term from, I think, the seventies. 

And so just seeing how this is a big need, and someone needs to be centering with students that are multi legal learners in any kind of learning environment.

So this is my long-winded answer to why I'm studying this topic. 

Rachel Haine-Schlagel:

Oh, that was great, and I really appreciate that you bring both your personal experiences and your kind of professional passions to your work. That is often the recipe for the most, you know, impactful researchers is to sort of bring that personal and professional together. 

I read a couple of your papers in preparation for this conversation, and I really was struck by the the amount of deficit-focused language that is still being used for this population, and also just sort of how our society does not necessarily see bilingual or multilingual abilities as an incredible strength, but instead sees it as something that needs to be overcome. Or that you need to be able to speak English perfectly.

I am struck by the idea that being bilingual is seen as being you know, having a deficit rather than having amazing cognitive flexibility. 

Melissa A. Navarro Martell:

And it also depends on the language right, because if I think if we think of a bilingual person that's fluent in English and French or English and some other language, you know, it's an asset, or it's beautiful. Oh, look at how somebody sounds their, you know, French words.

But the experience with Spanish and English, I think, at least for my experience and the students that I serve is that we are treated different. So there's also this aspect of language status that's very real in terms of which bilingualism is seen as a beautiful or a high status and which bilingualism is not appreciated or seen as inferior.

Rachel Haine-Schlagel:

Yeah. Oh, great points. 

My second question is actually a request. Which is to ask you to describe an example of the impact that your research has had on the community.

Melissa A. Navarro Martell:

Okay. I think my brain first goes to the binational work that I've been doing for a year now with colleagues across the border in Mexico, and so shoutout to my colleagues on the other side. 

But I'm primarily thinking about the impact my work has had on my immediate family and my extended family. My teachers and the students that are attending schools where I went to school. I'm thinking of the impact it's had even on my high school chemistry teacher, Mrs. Bassett, that I run into sometimes at conferences.

And so I think the best way that I can answer this question is, I guess, the impact that I bring to professional settings. When I attend conferences that are PK-12 teachers, I bring different aspects. And so when I attend science, focused or STEM focused conferences, I'm able to bring the dual language or the language aspect into those spaces. And then, when I attend conferences on language like CABE, the California Association of Bilingual Educators, I'm able to bring the science component or the math component to those spaces.

And so I guess, in terms of impact it's just being able to navigate in these two or more spaces where these intersectional aspects come into play, and being able to to spread that to attendees and colleagues and participants, and also learn myself, as I continue developing as a learning researcher

Rachel Haine-Schlagel:

That really is such an amazing strength that you belong to these two different, really important areas of education, and that you can really inform the other one  — that's something we struggle with so much in an academia and in, just sort of professional disciplines, is sort of hearing other perspectives, or taking into account things that are not, you know a particular interest, or come naturally to a group to think about. 

And so that's wonderful that you're able to bring those perspectives over to another. That you go to two different types of conferences, and that you sort of operate in two different worlds is really cool. 

Now I want to ask you, what do you struggle with the most in studying what you study?

Melissa A. Navarro Martell:

Um, that's a good question. I think the first one is overcoming my imposter syndrome. That's something I'm also learning about. Who created this idea of the imposter syndrome? And why should I invest time thinking about it or talking about it, and so overcoming that and experiencing microaggressions in these spaces. Because I look different than you know, whatever the majority is. 

And so, as I set that up, I think my biggest struggle or fear I would say it's a fear of making sure that now that i'm in academia, or now that I join this side of education, then I don't perpetuate the systems that I've been fighting as a student as a teacher.

And also making sure that the teachers that I'm supporting or preparing, that they also don't replicate those experiences that can be very harmful or traumatic to multilingual learners. And so that's one of my biggest struggles. How do I exist in this space that is oppressive? It could be dehumanizing at times. 

And how do I elevate the human aspects of children and teachers? As I continue writing these research papers as I continue applying for these awards? And so yeah, that's very tough, because it's existing in this world. 

Rachel Haine-Schlagel:

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. 

The two papers that you sent me, that I read in preparation for our conversation, really, both do such a beautiful job of demonstrating this. What you're doing, what you're talking about, the fear that you're trying to tackle in terms of writing a paper about trans languaging in both languages, going from one language to the other, in terms of writing a paper about pedagogy with the teachers that you studied.

Just as an outside observer, I see you working hard and being successful at trying to to operate in, to operate in so many worlds, Melissa, operating in these different professional worlds. I think that really it's very obvious from your work how hard you're working at that goal.

My last question comes out in my own background as a clinical psychologist. This is something that clinical psychologists and mental health professionals will often ask clients, especially when they're first getting to know them, is if I could wave a magic wand and make society as a whole move towards your vision of multilingual educators to be critically conscious. What would it look like? What would it look like if you're, you know, the work that you're doing, the work of your colleagues is actually adopted widespread. 

What would it look like?

Melissa A. Navarro Martell:

Um, I'm trying to think of rubbing a lamp and having a genie, and so I'm gonna try to keep it at three. But we'll see what comes out first. 

I would love for everyone to know that we are all math and science people. Everyone can do math and science.

And I guess that one would connect to the second, the second wish that would be undoing the harm that teachers have experienced in terms of their relationship with math and science, so that they can see themselves and people understanding that it's possible to teach math from an equity perspective in a bilingual setting.

And what else? I'm also thinking of the curriculum that's out there. So I would love for teachers to be able to look at curriculum and say, ‘Oh, I can use this to teach in this setting or that setting.’

I think the last thing would be that I would love for people to understand that there's a status attached to languages. And so, if we're reflective about how we approach that, if we're reflective about us as the listener, who and then looking at who's speaking? And this is where racial linguistics comes in. Like, am I hearing this correctly, or am I as a listener, attaching these ideologies about the expectations I have for the person speaking.

So with my magic wand. Those are my requests or my ideal things that would happen.

Rachel Haine-Schlagel:

That sounds like a wonderful set of just aspirational and hopefully someday achievable goals to make the educational impact of our country more effective and more welcoming, more inclusive, and get everybody who is here reaching their sort of optimal potential around math around the science around just interacting with the world and each other. 

So I'm so grateful that you are part of our college, and you are doing such amazing work. Thank you.

And I'm just really appreciative that you took the time to talk to us, especially the morning after. I think you said something about how it went in, and right at five o'clock last night. So um thank you so, so much for talking with me and I wish you so much luck in all of your work. 

You're not going to need it. You're doing an amazing job. You're on an amazing trajectory and I’m just grateful for you. 

So thank you. 

Melissa A. Navarro Martell:

Thank you. Thank you so much for having me and for giving you this opportunity to talk about my work, and who I am, and where I come from.

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