The very first report card my 3.5-year old twins brought home from school was a bit of a shock. They got a “B-” in “knows body parts”. Really? My kids don’t know their body parts? I felt like such a failure as a mother – after all, my oldest daughter certainly knew *her* body parts at that age. Her report cards were all “A”s, from the beginning.
Happily, after a bit of pondering, I realised that it wasn’t my parenting at fault, it was the assessment techniques and standards. Yes, my children knew their body parts (believe me, I checked!). However, the languages they used most at home were English and Dutch. The language of school was French. So, the assessment should read “knows the words for body parts in French”. They knew the parts, they knew most of the words in English, a lot of them in Dutch, but not so many in French.
But this, of course, is the root of the problem. The majority of the schools our (bilingual/multilingual) children attend have monolingual standards of assessment. They don’t care if your kids know things in other languages, and they don’t care if the assessment techniques and standards are biased. In fact, many will argue that they are not biased, because they expect bilingual children to be “the same” as monolingual children in both/all of their languages.
So today I am back to Oxford, for the fifth session of our teacher-training program. And tomorrow we are going to be talking about assessment for bilingual learners; how to figure out what they know before they can express it, how to “evaluate” them fairly and with empathy and understanding of their differentiated language skills. This is one of my most important seminars, I think, because children who are “language learners” in schools so often underachieve in evaluations, which sets the teachers off on a road to blaming bilingualism, or trying to send kids for “special education” and in turn sends parents into a tailspin of questioning their decisions and not knowing how to help their children.

Wish me luck!

And for the record, my kids now know their body parts in French And in English. But they have forgotten a few in Dutch, I think. Such is life in a multilingual household.