Scholarship


Troubling Messages: Agency and Learning in the Early Schooling Experiences of Children of Latina/o Immigrants

Adair, J.K., Colegrove, K. & McManus, M. (2018) Troubling Messages: Agency and Learning in the Early Schooling Experiences of Children of Latina/o Immigrants. Teachers College Record 120(6) p. 1-40.

Summary: Early childhood education in the United States is currently suspended between the belief that young children learn through dynamic experiences in which they are able to create and experiment, and the belief that young children's emerging literacy and math skills require formal instruction and assessments to ensure future academic success. This balance is difficult because each approach requires different allowances for children's agency. Purpose/Objective: This study investigates how district administrators, school administrators, pre-K-3 teachers, and bilingual first graders within a school district serving Latina/o immigrant families think about the role of agency in early learning. Data was collected in Lasso ISD and El Naranjo Elementary School, located on the U.S./Mexico border. Lasso ISD is predominantly Latina/o with 85% of its population self-identifying as Latina/o and experiencing financial stress. 


A vision for transforming early childhood research and practice for young children of immigrants and their families

Doucet, F., & Adair, J. (2018). Introduction: A Vision for Transforming Early Childhood Research and Practice for Young Children of Immigrants and Their Families. Occasional Paper Series, 2018 (39). https://educate.bankstreet.edu/occasional-paper-series/vol2018/iss39/2

Summary: This special issue of the Occasional Paper Series describes practices and policies that can positively impact the early schooling of children of immigrants in the United States. We consider the intersectionality of young children’s lives and what needs to change in order to ensure that race, class, immigration status, gender, and dis/ability can effectively contribute to children’s experiences at school and in other instructional contexts, rather than prevent them from getting the learning experiences they need and deserve.


Denying Learning Experiences to Young Latinx Children Because of the Word Gap Discourse

Adair, J.K., Colegrove, K. & McManus, M. (2017) Denying Learning Experiences to Young Latinx Children Because of the Word Gap Discourse. Harvard Education Publishing Group. http://hepg.org/blog/denying-learning-experiences-to-young-latinx-child. 

Summary: Young children of Latinx and other marginalized groups are too often denied the kinds of learning experiences that wealthier, whiter students automatically receive. Dynamic, agentic learning is assumed to be something that is earned or deserved, an opportunity saved for children who have or are assumed to have highly educated parents, strong vocabularies, literacy and math benchmarks, or live in wealthy neighborhoods. This delineation between who can handle or who deserves dynamic learning comes from discriminatory, deficit and often racist thinking deep within the institution of schooling and the public sphere. Ultimately, this thinking affects the learning opportunities that children are offered and the knowledge, skills, and potential they are allowed to demonstrate.


How the Word Gap Argument Negatively Impacts Young Children of Latinx Immigrants' Conceptualizations of Learning

Adair, J.K. Colegrove, K.S. & McManus, M.E. (2017) How the Word Gap Argument Negatively Impacts Young Children of Latinx Immigrants' Conceptualizations of Learning. Harvard Educational Review 87 (3), 309-334.

Summary: Early childhood education in grades preK–3 continues to contribute to future school success. Discrimination, however, can still be an obstacle for many children of Latinx immigrants because they often receive less sophisticated and dynamic learning experiences than their white, native-born peers. In this article, Jennifer Keys Adair, Kiyomi Sánchez-Suzuki Colegrove, and Molly E. McManus detail how this type of educational discrimination is perpetuated by educators’ acceptance of the “word gap” discourse. Drawing on empirical work with more than two hundred superintendents, administrators, teachers, parents, and young children, they recount how caring, experienced educators explained that Latinx immigrant students could not handle dynamic, agentic learning experiences because they lacked vocabulary and how the children in those classrooms said that learning required still, obedient, and quiet bodies. Rather than blaming educators, the authors share this empirical evidence to demonstrate the harm that can come from denying young children a range of sophisticated learning experiences, especially when institutionally and publicly justified by deficit-oriented research and thinking. Using the work of Charles Mills, the authors argue that such a denial of experience to children of Latinx immigrants and other marginalized communities is discriminatory and, too often, the status quo. 


Civic Action and Play: Examples from Maori, Aboriginal Australian and Latino Communities.

Adair, J.K., Phillips, L., Ritchie, J. & Sachdeva, S. (2017) Civic Action and Play: Examples from Maori, Aboriginal Australian and Latino Communities. Early Child Development and Care 187 (5-6)

Summary: Using data from an international, comparative study of civic action in preschools in New Zealand, Australia and the US, we consider some of the types of civic action that are possible when time and space are offered for children to use their agency to initiate, work together and collectively pursue ideas and things that are important to the group. We use an example from each country and apply the work of Rancière and Arendt to think about collectivity as civic action in young children’s schooling lives. Play, rather than an act itself, is positioned here as political time and space that make such civic action possible in the everyday lives of children. We argue here that play is the most common (and endangered) time and space in which children act for the collective.


Creating Positive Contexts of Reception: The Value of Immigrant Teachers in U.S. Early Childhood Education Programs.

Adair, J.K.  (2016) Creating Positive Contexts of Reception: The Value of Immigrant Teachers in U.S. Early Childhood Education Programs. Education Policy Analysis and Archives 24.

Summary: Young children of immigrants are increasingly part of early childhood programs in the United States but teachers have mixed approaches and attitudes about the immigrant families that they work with. This article details an analysis of 50 preschool teachers in five US cities using data from the Children Crossing Borders video-cued ethnographic study. The analysis finds that preschool sites that valued the insight of immigrant teachers had more positive views of immigrant communities and stronger mechanisms to communicate with immigrant parents. The article ultimately argues that policies that support the presence and meaningful input of immigrant preschool teachers can help preschool sites be positive, rather than negative or indifferent, contexts of reception.


The Impact of Discrimination on the Early Schooling Experiences of Children from Immigrant Families

Adair, J.K. (2015) The Impact of Discrimination on the Early Schooling Experiences of Children from Immigrant Families. Washington, D.C.: Migration Policy Institute. https://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/impact-discrimination-early-schooling-experiences-children-immigrant-families

Summary: How the young children of immigrants experience their early school years may in large part determine their academic future and negatively affect their emotional, social, and mental development. Children benefit from a positive, supportive learning environment where their contributions are valued; many from immigrant families, however, experience discrimination in school during their early, impressionable years. This report, part of a research series supported by the Foundation for Child Development, maps the types of personal and structural discrimination that young children of immigrants may experience at school, and the consequences of discrimination for children, their families, and schools.


“I’m Just Playing iPad”: Comparing preschoolers’ and pre-service teachers’ social interactions while using tablets for learning.

Moore, H.C. & Adair, J.K. (2015). “I’m Just Playing iPad”: Comparing preschoolers’ and pre-service teachers’ social interactions while using tablets for learning. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 38(4), 362-378.

This article shares how two distinct groups of learners—prekindergarteners and preservice teachers in early childhood education coursework—used touch-screen tablets in their playful, discovery-based learning processes. We found similarities across both contexts as prekindergarteners and preservice teachers engaged in social interactions, gathering ideas from each other while exploring open-ended tablet apps. In addition to descriptions of learners’ talk and actions alongside one another, we offer strategies for teacher educators seeking to provide dynamic learning experiences (particularly with tablets) for preservice teachers. We also offer suggestions for app selection that might allow discovery-based learning opportunities for both preservice teachers and the young children they hope to teach.


Agency and Expanding Capabilities in Early Grade Classrooms: What it could mean for young children.

Adair, J.K. (2014) Agency and Expanding Capabilities in Early Grade Classrooms: What it could mean for young children. Harvard Educational Review 84(2), 217-241.

Summary: Meant for teachers, parents, policymakers and general public interested in educational issues, this article tries to clarify the concept of agency as a tool for improving the educational experiences of young children in the early grades. Agency is defined as the ability to influence what and how something is learned in order to expand capabilities. This definition draws upon economic theories of human development, agency, and capability as they might be applied to early learning in schools. An understanding of early childhood education aimed at expanding children’s capabilities stands in contrast to the currently prevalent emphasis on preparing children for the knowledge and skills tested in elementary grades. Through classroom-based examples of student agency and a call to bring cultural and varied perspectives into the discussion, I hope to encourage dynamic, agentic learning experiences for all children, not just those of privilege.


Confirming Chanclas: What Early Childhood Teacher Educators Can Learn From Immigrant Preschool Teachers.

Adair, J.K. (2011) Confirming Chanclas: What Early Childhood Teacher Educators Can Learn From Immigrant Preschool Teachers. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education 32(1), 55-71.

Summary: The immigrant teacher perspective has been largely missing from local and national debates on early childhood pedagogy and has certainly been marginalized in debates about language in early childhood settings. Interviews with dozens of preschool teachers in multiple U.S. cities about children of immigrants' language choices at school (as part of the Children Crossing Borders study) revealed a specific immigrant teacher critique of typical English language modeling techniques. These immigrant teachers reposition children's home languages as a valuable form of expression and thus argue for a more empathetic and constructivist view of children of immigrants. Hearing the perspectives of immigrant preschool teachers is especially important for early childhood educators who are preparing young teachers to serve a growing number of children of immigrants in early childhood settings. This article asserts that early childhood educators need to talk honestly with students about the implications of their responses to children of immigrants in the classroom and in doing so, can benefit from consulting the personal experiences and perspectives of practicing immigrant preschool teachers.


Communal Agency and Social Development: Examples from First Grade Classrooms Serving Children of Immigrants.

Adair J.K. & Colegrove, K.S. (2014) Communal Agency and Social Development: Examples from First Grade Classrooms Serving Children of Immigrants. Asia-Pacific Journal of Research in Early Childhood Education 8(2), 69-91.

Summary: This article explores how children of Latino immigrants responded to a learning environment where they could influence how and what they learned. Using ethnographic data from the much larger Agency and Young Children project in the United States, this article describes how a particular six year old classroom serving mostly children of Latino immigrants responded in ways that not only increased content knowledge in subjects such as science and literacy but also increased the amount of shared or communal agency in the classroom, even affecting the development of social capabilities by the children and teacher alike. Using a conceptual framework borrowed from development economics and particularly the work on agency and capabilities byAmartya Sen this paper counters a strictly psychological, individualistic version of agency and instead conceptualizes agency as a means to building individual and communal capabilities.


Countering Deficit Thinking: Agency, Capabilities and the Early Learning Experiences of Children of Latina/o Immigrants.

Colegrove, K.S. & Adair, J.K. (2014) Countering Deficit Thinking: Agency, Capabilities and the Early Learning Experiences of Children of Latina/o Immigrants. Contemporary Issues In Early Childhood 15(2), 122-135.

Summary: This article documents what happened in a first grade classroom when young Latina/o children of immigrants had consistent classroom-based opportunities to use their agency in their learning. Applying theoretical constructs from development economics to data from the Agency and Young Children ethnographic project, we explore three forms of agency that young children in Ms Bailey's class used so often that it became routine and normal to see on an everyday basis. These forms of agency include (1) initiating projects, (2) designing projects and (3) pursuing inquiry through questions. With each form of agency, we point out the types of capabilities that were possible because of children being able to use that particular form. We then discuss how these forms of agency debunk some of the deficit discourses that are used to justify the current narrowing of curriculum for young children from marginalized communities, specifically Latina/o children of immigrants.


Children Crossing Borders: Immigrant Parent and Teacher Perspectives on Preschool.

Tobin, J., Arzubiaga, A. & Adair, J.K. (2013). Children Crossing Borders: Immigrant Parent and Teacher Perspectives on Preschool. New York: Russell Sage.

Summary: In many school districts in America, the majority of students in preschools are children of recent immigrants. For both immigrant families and educators, the changing composition of preschool classes presents new and sometimes divisive questions about educational instruction, cultural norms and academic priorities. Drawing from an innovative study of preschools across the nation, Children Crossing Borders provides the first systematic comparison of the beliefs and perspectives of immigrant parents and the preschool teachers to whom they entrust their children. This research has produced findings on the ways schools can effectively and sensitively incorporate new immigrants into the social fabric.


 Examining Whiteness as an Obstacle to Positively Approaching Immigrant Families in U.S. Early Childhood Educational Settings. 

Adair, J.K. (2014) Examining Whiteness as an Obstacle to Positively Approaching Immigrant Families in U.S. Early Childhood Educational Settings. Journal of Race, Ethnicity and Education New York: Russell Sage.

Summary: This article examines whiteness at the intersection of immigration and early childhood education as it was made visible during interviews with 50 preschool teachers in five US cities as part of the Children Crossing Borders (CCB) study. Findings show whiteness acting not only as a construct of privilege but also as an idea that manifests itself in ways that affect schooling, even in early educational settings like preschool. Whiteness is made visible through a combination of multivocal ethnographic methodology, Critical Race Theory (CRT), and post-structural analytical tools all used within a comparative framework to understand whiteness from the perspective of white teachers responding to newly arrived immigrant families and subsequently from the counterexamples of immigrant teachers working in cities with longer histories of immigration. Findings suggest that the logic of whiteness used to respond to immigrant families includes blaming them, distancing from them and charging them with responsibility to change while at the same time being grateful for their presence in the school. Whiteness was found to prevent teachers from responding in engaged and positive ways to immigrant families and the manifestations of whiteness revealed by the white teachers in this study mirror larger societal tensions around immigration and race.


Recognizing the Voices of Immigrant Parents in Preschool/Pre-K Settings.

Adair, J.K. & Barraza-Correa, A. (2014). Recognizing the Voices of Immigrant Parents in Preschool/Pre-K Settings. Young Children.

Summary: When immigrant parents bring their children to early educational settings, it is often with a mix of hope and apprehension. Immigrant parents are usually grateful for and hopeful about the type of education their children will receive. But they worry that their children may experience teachers who are unkind or unable to advocate for them in the classroom or on the playground. In this article, we share how immigrant parents described the types of teachers they want for their children. The ideas, strategies, and concerns are all taken directly from interviews with over 100 immigrant parents in five U.S. cities as part of the multi-sited ethnographic study Children Crossing Borders. We hope to demonstrate that immigrant parents are important sources of information about young children, about early childhood education, and about what it means to be a young immigrant family in the United States.


Addressing Race and Inequity in the Classroom.

Doucet, F. & Adair, J.K. (2013). Addressing Race and Inequity in the ClassroomYoung Children, 68(5), 88-97

Summary: As teacher educators, we often hear skeptical or worried responses when we bring up young children talking about race. "But kids are too young to talk about it." I don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable." "They’re so innocent!" But are they? The purpose of this article is to discuss (1) what we know in the field of early childhood education (ECE) about young children’s abilities and capabilities to think and talk about racial differences, and (2) how early childhood teachers and administrators can better approach and respond to racial conversations that are anti-racist within early childhood classrooms (preK-3). Avoiding conversations about racism and inequity does not mean some kids in the class will not experience these social realities. Teachers , and young children need tools, for addressing these issues.


The Dilemma of Cultural Responsiveness and Professionalization: Listening Closer to Immigrant Teachers Who Teach Children of Recent Immigrants.

Adair, J.K., Tobin, J. & Arzubiaga, A. (2012). The Dilemma of Cultural Responsiveness and Professionalization: Listening Closer to Immigrant Teachers Who Teach Children of Recent Immigrants. Teachers College Record, 114 (12), 1-37.

Summary: Culturally knowledgeable and responsive teachers are important in early education and care settings that serve children from immigrant families. However, our study of teachers in five U.S. cities at a number of early childhood settings suggests that teachers who are themselves immigrants often experience a dilemma that prevents them from applying their full expertise to the education and care of children of recent immigrants. Rather than feeling empowered by their bicultural, bilingual knowledge and their connection to multiple communities, many immigrant teachers instead report that they often feel stuck between their pedagogical training and their cultural knowledge. Our article argues that bicultural, bilingual staff, and especially staff members who are themselves immigrants from the community served by the school, can play an invaluable role in parent–staff dialogues, but only if their knowledge is valued, enacted, and encouraged as an extension of their professional role as early childhood educators. For the teachers, classrooms, and structures in our study, this would require nonimmigrant practitioners to have a willingness to consider other cultural versions of early childhood pedagogy as having merit and to enter into dialogue with immigrant teachers and immigrant communities.


Discrimination as a Contextualized Obstacle to the Preschool Teaching of Young Latino Children of Immigrants.

Adair, J.K. (2012). Discrimination as a Contextualized Obstacle to the Preschool Teaching of Young Latino Children of ImmigrantsContemporary Issues in Early Childhood, 13(3), 163-174.

Summary: This article explores how discrimination acts as a barrier to providing the highest quality education to young Latino children of immigrants. Preschool teachers' concerns emerged from focus group data with 40 teachers in four US cities, collected as part of the international Children Crossing Borders study of immigration and early childhood education. Using focus group data as well as a multi-sited comparative analytic model, this study details teachers' concerns about discrimination in terms of negative discourses and harsh education and immigration policies, and explains how these forms of discrimination affect preschool teachers' efforts to teach. The findings demonstrate why and how local and national forms of discrimination can prevent teachers from reaching their full capacity to teach young Latino children of immigrants successfully, while suggesting that educational inequities facing Latino immigrant families cannot be resolved by teacher education alone, but must include cultural, societal and political changes to how Latino families are treated in the USA.


Advocating for Ethnographic Work in Early Childhood Federal Policy: Problems and Possibilities.

Adair, J.K. (2011). Advocating for Ethnographic Work in Early Childhood Federal Policy: Problems and Possibilities. Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 42(4), 422-433.

Summary: This article reflects on making the case for ethnographic research within early childhood education federal policy through the creation and distribution of a policy brief, titled "Ethnographic Knowledge for Early Childhood," for the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Early Learning. Here I outline the process of synthesizing a large body of work into a policy brief format and the larger considerations of dissemination inherent in such a process. I discuss how people unfamiliar with ethnographic research received the policy brief and the challenge we have as educational anthropologists of making our work accessible to those directly connected to policy decision-making at national levels. By describing how the policy brief tried to reframe early childhood policy from an anthropological perspective that offers context, evidence, and findings that cannot be obtained through other methodologies alone, I hope to encourage fellow anthropologists to think strategically about including policy briefs within their multilayered dissemination efforts. Although this article focuses on a specific political networking strategy common in the United States, the discussion relates to all anthropologists who must alter their writing and communication methods to connect with decision makers involved in education.


Developing qualitative coding frameworks for educational research

Adair, J.K. & Pastori, G. (2011). Developing qualitative coding frameworks for educational research: Immigration, education and the Children Crossing Borders project. International Journal of Research and Method in Education, 34 (1), 31-47.

Summary: The Children Crossing Borders (CCB) study is a polyvocal, multi‐sited project on immigration and early childhood education and care in five countries: Italy, Germany, France, England and the USA. The complicated nature of the data pushed us as a group to expand our methodological resources to not only organize the data but also to make it searchable, and thus comparable, so that we could understand more deeply the perspectives and desires of immigrant parents and preschool teachers on education. This article uses examples from the CCB project to show how coding frameworks can be created to support large‐scale collaborative projects that seek to amplify the voices of marginalized groups in educational qualitative research. We argue here that creating qualitative coding frameworks depends on a balance between etic/insider and emic/outsider knowledge, decisions about interpretation and practical compromises about labels and meanings. These three elements play out in necessary debates and disagreements as part of the creative process and are critical for large‐scale projects looking for a coding framework and a coding process that is both useful and meaningful.


Meditation, Rangoli and Eating on the Floor:

Adair, J.K. & Bhaskaran, L. (2010). Meditation, Rangoli and Eating on the Floor: Practices from an Urban Preschool in Bangalore, India. Young Children, 65(6), 48-55.

Summary: Young children benefit from learning about and experiencing cultural and ethnic diversity. Early childhood practitioners often strive to diversify the curriculum by including children's cultural traditions, holidays, or foods. Yet, one knows that young children need more than a celebration or a circle time story about a place or people to feel connected to groups outside their home and school worlds. Because India is an incredible mix of cultures, languages, and philosophies, it is an ideal place to look for everyday practices to use in the early childhood classroom. The authors have chosen three early childhood practices--guided meditation, decorating with rangoli, and eating on the floor--as examples of everyday cultural practices in India that can help children in the United States open their minds to difference. In this article, the authors use these three practices to exemplify how including diversified cultural practices in early childhood classrooms can broaden children's global knowledge and cultural flexibility