International Mother Language Day: Putting your money where your mouth is!

Mother tongue promotion in the school helps develop not only the mother tongue but also children’s abilities in the majority school language. (Cummins, J. 2001)

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This year I am celebrating International Mother Language Day at home, speaking many languages with my own children – mother, father and other. Last year, for IMLD 2015, I had the honour of participating in the the festivities at the German European School of Singapore. As the theme of IMLD this year is “Quality Education, language(s) of instruction and learning outcomes” I thought it would be appropriate to write this post about my visit to GESS last year. GESS is a school of two halves, with a classic German school on one side, and an IB international school on the other. I spent five days at GESS EuroSec last year, doing training with the staff and parents, and sharing in their celebrations of IMLD.

GESS celebrates it as “International Languages Day”, which recognises the fact that children have many important languages in their lives, from their mothers, fathers, school, friends etc. The school celebrates this day with a fair of language tables (Dutch table pictured above, Turkish table below) where children can use their own languages and try new languages, games and food. They also have mother tongue story-telling, with parents coming in to share stories in a wide variety of languages. All of this is a great way to show children that their languages are valued at GESS. However, the school also is putting in place programs that go much farther to support language diversity – past what Sarah Thomas, Head of EuroSec Primary calls “foods, flags and festivals”. The secondary school has a robust integrated program for Dutch and Danish mother tongue, based on a long-term partnership with LanguageOne. The primary school has launched a new “Language Enrichment Program“(LEP) this year, designed to support the home languages of as many of its students as possible. At the launch, they had over 400 pupils in 29 groups, across 13 languages involved in the new Wednesday afternoon enrichment program.

We don’t want to communicate to our children that they need to check their diverse identities and languages at the classroom door, because intended or not, the message is that classrooms are English-only environments. We want our students to bring their whole selves to class, where all their cultural and linguistic knowledge will be valued, so that they, in turn, can value their own emerging, complex identities. This makes for well-adjusted children, and as research tells us, it pays a dividend in academic success too.  

                                                                                       Sarah Thomas, Head of EuroSec Primary, GESS

 This new program is intended to support the students’ home language skills, and also to support the status of their home languages, as languages worth knowing, using, growing. Alongside the LEP, there is also a concerted effort underway to integrate linguistic diversity into the classroom, through the use of differentiated pedagogies such as translanguaging. Although the school has many challenges facing it in implementing and maintaining new approaches to diversity in international schools it is well on its way to being a flagship of best practice for international schools.

UNESCO has made it a priority to promote children’s rights to education in a language that they speak, in order to maximise educational opportunities for all children. In the world of international education we often focus on what children gain from the opportunity to go to school in another language (usually English). It’s important that we also stop and consider what they may be forfeiting if international schools don’t also make an effort to support the continued growth of their home languages.  

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Supporting multilingualism in schools: Spotlight on best practice

I’ve been very absent from my blog for the last year, and have been thinking about a good post to start the new year. I have a back-log of ideas in my brain and none was “the one”. Then I saw this video on FB (thanks to Ellen-Rose Kambel from the Rutu Foundation) and found “the one”.

One of the reasons my posting lagged last year was that I have been working more with schools, and less with families. When I started this blog I intended it to be for families raising bilingual/multilingual children. But as I spend more time doing research/training with schools, my focus has changed. So this year, my blog will often feature information for teachers and schools. I am planning to do a “throwback Thursday” series to bring back some of most popular/useful blog posts for parents as well – I know it can be hard to troll the archives to see if there is anything pertinent to your situation, so hopefully this will help.

In the meantime, I’d like to share this video, from a source called “Teacher Pages” (links below). The clip is filmed in a classroom in India, and shows so many great teaching moments that it’s hard to know where to start. So I’ll start with language. One of the issues I have been focusing on in the last 2 years is the very important issue of languages in the classroom. In many, many schools there are still restrictive regulations about language use, which disallow children from using their mother tongue/first language/home language at school. Sometimes the restrictions are only in the classroom, sometimes they apply to the whole school area. In either case, the schools are doing children a disservice, personally and academically, through these regulations. I’ve written about this before, so I’m going to avoid the temptation to go on a diatribe about all the reasons that these regulations are wrong. I will say that in my experience, these regulations are based on these misconceptions:

  1. If children speak their “other” language at school they won’t learn the school language as quickly.
  2. That the school needs all the children to use only one language or there will be cliques and divisions among the children
  3. That teachers need to understand everything said or written in the classroom in order to be “in control” of the environment and the learning.

I will write a post on each of these misconceptions in the future, but in short, we know from research that none of the above are true. When I do training on this topic, one of the most common worries is how to manage different languages in the classroom. I think the teacher in the clip below illustrates beautifully how multilingual learning enhances a classroom, and also how well children work together within and across their languages. In addition, her understanding of how children learn a new language and how to create an  inclusive classroom environment are fantastic. Congratulations to Ms. Sujata Patil (Principal) and Ms. Nikita Patil on this wonderful best practice video.

Aside from language, I absolutely love the “running board” in the classroom. No technology, brilliant multilingual, interactive teaching. This is a school we can all learn something from, no matter what our school environment is like. (I know that this shows a classroom in which the teacher speaks, apparently, all the languages. I will write on the same topic for teachers in super-diverse schools as well).

Speaking, Reading and Writing in a Multilingual Classroom

TEACHER PAGES

Forum: Why educating English language learners means success for everyone

This welcome attention to English learners, however, will become hollow rhetoric if the federal government does not fund significant professional development for teachers. A majority of teachers today report that they do not feel prepared to work with English learners, and most teachers in fact have limited or no training regarding the unique challenges and opportunities that accompany teaching English learners.

This is an issue that has been a major part of my work for the last years – teachers who have language learners in their classrooms need appropriate and comprehensive training. And these days, that means most teacher need training. While this article focuses on the US, the situation is no different in most parts of the world. In Europe, economic migration is pouring children into local schools that need to learn the language *and* keep their own language to succeed at school. In the UK 1 in 6 primary school children do not speak English at home (check NALDIC for good statistics) and other countries are close behind. Pre-service teacher training programs need to address this as a part of initial teacher training, and schools need to address this by providing substantial training to all in-service teachers and support staff. It’s not a luxury, it’s a necessity!

via Forum: Why educating English language learners means success for everyone.

How Long Does It Take ELLs to Develop English Proficiency? – Learning the Language – Education Week

On average, it took the students 3.8 years to reach English proficiency. But over the course of the study, almost 20 percent of students did not score high enough on the state exam to be reclassified.

This is such a big question in education these days; how long does it take learners to become proficient in a new language through schooling? Most often, children are “graduated” from language support (where available) in a year or two. Very few schools can implement the 3-9 years of language support needed to ensure all children reach proficiency in the school language. This small-scale study in the US shows that learners took, on average, 3.8 years to reach proficiency, living in an English-speaking environment. We could extrapolate from this to presume that learners living in environments where the school language is not supported outside school (in international contexts) would need more time and support. How does your school, or your child’s school, measure up?

 

How Long Does It Take ELLs to Develop English Proficiency? – Learning the Language – Education Week.

Report Offers Guiding Principles to Support ELLs With Disabilities – Learning the Language – Education Week

“No proven method exists for identifying an English-learner student who has a learning disability and then placing the student in the most appropriate instructional program,”

This report touches on a crucial area for improving support for language learners in school – how to evaluate and support for potential learning difficulties across a language barrier.

The steps they propose are a good guideline for thoughtful processes and attention to details in a complex field.

via Report Offers Guiding Principles to Support ELLs With Disabilities – Learning the Language – Education Week.

Six Things Principals Can Do To Support Their English Language Learners | Education Northwest

This is a great outline of how administrators and senior leadership are key in setting a school up to provide the best support system for children who do not speak the school language.

For those who don’t want to read the whole article. here are the points:
1. Set a vision for high expectations
2. Make the families feel welcome
3. Ensure that the students receive English language development
4. Provide training for all teachers
5. Monitor content learning and language development (separately!)
6. Provide time (and a system) for classroom teachers to collaborate with language specialists.

These are the key factors that we address in our “Whole School” approach to EAL/ELL – providing all staff with the knowledge to nurture language learners, provide a structure for efficient collaboration across the school, understanding language development separately from content development and most importantly, creating an environment that welcomes learners and their families.

How is you school, or your child’s school, doing?

 

 

Six Things Principals Can Do To Support Their English Language Learners | Education Northwest.

New Seminar Date: Raising Bilingual Children (Amsterdam, April 16)

It’s Spring time (even if it doesn’t feel like it yet…) and that means it’s time for my semi-annual trip to the welcoming Jacaranda Tree Montessori in Amsterdam. This seminar is for parents who are thinking about, or have already chosen bilingualism/multilingualism for their children. It’s a little bit of theory (but fun, I promise) and a lot of practical information on ways and means to pursue bilingualism, including different approaches and family language planning. This jam-packed seminar is the constantly-evolving product of over a decade of working with families and continuous integration of new research knowledge, all tied up in a two-hour bilingualpalooza. It’s a great way to learn a little more about bilingualism, get direction to set you on the right track or correct course if necessary, and to connect with other families in AMS who are on the same journey.
You can register via Jacaranda Tree Montessori

Feel free to email or post any questions you many have.