Empowering ELs in the classroom Book review

A Pedagogy of Powerful Communication: Youth Radio and Radio Arts in the Multilingual Classroom by Dana Walker invites us to take a look at how we teach our English Learners. "While many English as a Second Language (ESL) classes prioritize vocabulary acquisition and usage, with the main or only goal being to improve students' English, the project that Dana Walker designs, implements, and describes in this book instead takes an additive approach to teaching English Learners (ELs), leveraging and building on their native languages whenever possible, and including as a priority, in addition to language development, development of self and communication with others" (Belanger, pg 96).

In this study, Walker collaborated with two teachers and mentors to guide an ESL study skills and academic support class of 16 to 18 students from 9-11th grade through the process of learning about and producing youth commentary for community radio. These activities promote critical multiliteracies and language development through youth engagement in practices of media. She describes the proposed curriculum and pedagogy in detail and she identifies the role that community mentors play in mediating youth thinking and emotions when producing media. "The use of indexing of multiple linguistic codes served to validate Spanish as an appropriate form of communication, allowing participants to experience Spanish and Spanish speakers from a non-deficit perspective” (Belanger, pg 97). Our EL population have voice and should not be perceived as being comprised of poor immigrants. Instead, they should be given the opportunity to communicate in a meaningful way and develop expressive language through authentic work.

Belanger suggests that teacher personality and interpersonal dynamics played a role in student learning. Research shows that teacher personality and socio-communicative styles is linked to the outcome of ELs. In this study one of the mentors extroverted connectedness to students played a part in Walker's findings. Walker "offers a beautiful example of mentor Kareem engaging in conversation with a student over time to guide him toward questioning rather than shutting him down for a position of authority by telling him that his portrayal of drug traffickers as heroes was wrong ... If, however, the adult listens over time and the student shares the reasons why they might have that opinion, then there’s an opportunity to ask questions from a place of trust (or confianza, in Spanish, as Walker alludes to several times as an important element to the project) that might move the student’s thinking to see the role of drug traffickers differently (Belanger, 97).


Walker writes that, "we must shift our attention from language skills and exercises in communicative competencies to creating the conditions for a pedagogy of powerful communication” (Belanger, pg 98). This project represents the shift from ideology into action in the classroom and if others can implement this pedagogy then "the number of English Learners able to reap the benefits of community engagement and media production on the way to language and confidence development will multiply" (Belanger, pg 98).


Belanger, J. (2016). Review of: A Pedagogy of Powerful Communication: Youth Radio and Radio Arts in the Multilingual Classroom. Journal of Media Literacy Education 7(3), 96 – 99.

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