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Pandya Looks at English Learners' Language, Literacy and Identity

When Dr. Jessica Pandya, Chair of the Liberal Studies Department, came to CSULB 10 years ago, she began an ethnographic study of the experiences of English language learners in test-saturated classrooms under the No Child Left Behind Act. Her research, funded by two Haynes Foundation Faculty Fellowships and several CSULB RSCA Awards, led to the publication of Overtested: How High-Stakes Accountability Fails English Language Learners (Teachers College Press, 2011). The book describes the faults in the current K-12 accountability system and provides real-world solutions that can have an immediate and positive effect at the classroom, state and national levels.

Overtested Bookcover

After completing the Overtested project, Dr. Pandya looked for a local school site at which she could do more than observe and research children's practices; she wanted to create with children. To that end, in 2011, she began a project making videos on iPads with children at a local public charter school that serves several hundred English learners.

In the course of the four-year project, funded with a 150K Young American Scholars grant from the Foundation for Child Development and a sabbatical, Dr. Pandya and her team of undergraduate research assistants helped more than 150 8 - 10-year-old children make approximately 350 videos. While they worked at the school site, they explored the kinds of literacy practices that emerged as children composed these movies. They also attempted to understand the identities children created when they made movies about themselves to show to larger audiences.

Dr. Pandya and her team, including former Liberal Studies students Kathleah Pagdilao, Erik Aeloch Kim, Elizabeth Marquez, Maricela Garcia Ortiz, as well as Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program students Yesenia Salguero and Mariana Castellanos, have presented at several conferences and have published findings in Teachers College Record and the Australian Journal of Language & Literacy, and will continue to publish about this work for many years.

Last year, Dr. Pandya began collaborating with Professor Nat Hansuvadha, an Education Specialist, to analyze videos made by students with special needs (from learning disabilities to autism). That work has led to more conference presentations and papers under review. Dr. Pandya will give an ignite talk about the detrimental effects of ideological gaps between Literacy Studies and Special Education at the Digital Media & Learning Conference this June in Los Angeles.