Top 5 tips for learning about your new students when you can’t talk to them…

Every year, all around the world, teachers welcome into their classrooms students that they can not communicate with at all. While it’s obviously extremely difficult for the students, it’s also hard for the teachers. Every teacher wants to make their new students feel comfortable and happy and ready to learn. And that’s really hard to do when you can’t communicate with them. Over the years I’ve developed systems and resources for schools to use to structure the process of getting to know new students, but schools and teachers can do this themselves as well. Here are my top tips for getting the new school year off to a great start, for all your students (and for you!).

  1. Ensure that your school collects proper data from incoming families. They need to know the dominant culture/s of the family (not to be presumed as the passport country!), as well as an accurate language profile for each new student. This will help teachers in building knowledge about incoming students who are just starting with the school language. This data should also include information about likes/dislikes, both in terms of school subjects but also about hobbies etc.
  2. Do some research on the cultural background of incoming students. Many aspects of the classroom and teacher/student relationship are different from one culture to the next, so having an idea what your new students are expecting and are comfortable with may help you avoid uncomfortable moments. Topics to look for include typical adult-child interaction patterns, classroom practices, and potential sources of cultural conflict (shoes off inside or shoes on?). This website is a veritable treasure trove of useful links to help you: The Best Sites For Learning About The World’s Different Cultures
  3. Build a language development profile based on the dominant language of each new pupil. The best resource I have found for this is Learner English. It’s a linguistic analysis of the major languages/language families and how they compare and contrast to English. It looks at phonetics, grammar, sentence composition, and cognates/false friends, in depth. There is also a great section on direct translations and common errors. Although the chapters are very dense, it’s incredibly worthwhile to learn to use this resource. Teachers who understand the language starting point of their learners can better predict progress and problems, and better explain/demonstrate the differences between students’ dominant languages and English (contrastive awareness). This means that instead of marking everything as an “error” they can point out where there has been transfer, and work directly on those points of conflict. I advise schools to make a working group and assign one language per person, and then build a data base for the whole school, as the idea of tackling all the languages in a class would be daunting for even the most dedicated teacher!
  4. Learn to say hello in the the languages of each of your students. Imagine the impact on a child starting in a brand new school, knowing that they will have to learn a new language, to be greeted with one familiar word by their new teacher. It’s an instant way to let each individual student know that you see them, and they matter to you. That little effort can have a big pay-off in lowering the affective filter and helping them be more open to learning the school language right from the start. If you want to go a step farther, make a bulletin board with greeting in all the languages of your class, and use them with the class every morning, so all the students can learn to greet each other appropriately.
  5. And finally, help all your students get to know each other in non-verbal and non-threatening ways. We are all used to planning first day activities to help the class bond and get to know each other, but all too often (especially in after the early years of primary) these activities are language-based. Be creative, and find language-free ways to break the ice in the classroom, and let the students get to know each other without the filter of language/ability in the school language/accent. It levels the playing field and allows all the students a chance to shine, not only the ones who are strongest in the school language.

So with this I sign off, wishing you all a fantastic start to the 2017-2018 academic year!

(Cross-posted from LinkedIn for readers who aren’t connected to me there).

Identity language – what’s that? (Spotlight on Good Practice series)

To reject the child’s language in school is to reject the child.

  • Jim Cummins

First language, home language, mother tongue, family language… all these terms are used in international education, to try and talk about the languages students bring into schools. But what is implied by all these terms, and how does that affect the language possibilities of students in international schools? When international schools offer programmes designed to support the other languages their students speak they generally designate the mother tongue of the child as the language to support. They may use any of the terms I listed (and they may even have found another term that I didn’t list!) but the bottom line is usually that they set out to support a language that is spoken in the student’s home – usually linked to their passport country. Families are normally required to declare one language as the dominant language or most important language, to be supported by extra classes.

So what’s wrong with that? I write all the time about the importance of schools supporting home languages, so I should be happy when they do, shouldn’t I? Technically, yes. And technically, I am! But I’ve learned something valuable from the EAL/MT team at the International School of The Hague recently, and I’d like to share it as an example of good practice, and how paying attention to the learners in your schools will make you a better school.

At the beginning of the 2014-2015 academic year, the EAL and Mother Tongue (MT) staff at ISH hosted their annual meeting for parents of bilingual students. This meeting was informational in nature, to present the programmes that ISH offered for language support for learning English, as well as the MT programmes . At the time, ISH was offering after-school MT programmes for some languages, and had a one-hour a week integrated period, where students came together in language groups and worked on accessing classroom learning through their MT. The idea of supporting MT in schools was one that ISH had always firmly believed in, but in practice it was difficult. The after-school programme was run by the school, but was not inherently connected to school learning. The one-hour MT slot in the schedule was unique and working well, but each child could only have one designated mother tongue. In addition, the designation mother tongue didn’t mean that it was the child’s strongest language (and often it isn’t), and so there were varying levels of fluency in groups as well. Nonetheless, they knew they had a better programme than most schools, and were addressing the language development needs of as many students as they could manage.

But at this particular meeting, a parent was to raise an issue that would lead to a year of discussions and ultimately, the creation of a completely unique approach to languages in international schools. The parent in question was American, but had lived in France with his children for many years and therefore they were fluent French speakers. However, by the school’s definition of mother tongue, and indeed  by any traditional MT definition, his children did not qualify for the French MT programme.  It became clear during the meeting, and the “after meeting” with concerned parents, that this was not a one-off issue, and was going to become more common, not less. In an increasingly globalised education sector, trying to categorise children’s language abilities and priorities by their parents’ passports is becoming both limiting and often irrelevant.

ISH formed a working group that included senior management, the EAL managing team (Sue Tee, Mindy McCracken, Nikki Welsh), and the head of MT (Lara Rikers). Together, this group spent a year investigating the profoundly complex issues relating to languages generally, and MT language specifically, guided by the powerful Jim Cummins’ quote:

To reject the child’s language in school is to reject the child.

  • Jim Cummins

At the end of this journey, they had new names for languages in their school: home languages, to replace the insufficient term mother tongue, and identity language, to represent languages that are important to children, but not related to their parents or home. In the renewed programme, students can choose up to three languages from these two definitions per year, rather than the former structure of “mother tongue hour”, which was one language per child, chosen when they entered the school. If students choose more than one language, they can switch each term, or between projects. In this way, each student can potentially have support in maintaining both parental languages, as well as an identity language that they have acquired elsewhere.

In March 2017 McCracken and Rikers presented the ISH approach to languages in international schools at the ECIS ESL/MT (now ECIS MLIE) conference in Copenhagen, with the support of Jim Cummins. Now that the ISH Identity Language has been launched in international education I hope (expect!) more schools to start having critical discussions about the language profiles of their students too.

Wondering about translanguaging?

 translanguaging

I’ve been promising for years to write a post about pedagogical translanguaging. In fact, probably about five years! But I always get stuck in the details… I want to present it accurately, and really show how it works. So I created (with the help of Ollydave) this short explainer video, so people can have a 2-minute introduction to a complex topic. Click on the picture above and enjoy!

Raising Bilingual (or multilingual!) Children: 6 building blocks for success (May 18)

Next parent seminar in Amsterdam coming up! If you are raising your children with more than one language (or thinking about it), come along and find out the six building blocks for a successful Family Language Plan. This seminar has been developed over a decade of working with bilingual/multilingual families and packs in theoretical background as well and practical planning. Looking forward to meeting my next group of parents!

Our host is the Jacaranda Tree Montessori, registration through this link: Raising Bilingual Children

Raising Bilingual Children: Parent seminar (Amsterdam)

A brief announcement that on Thursday, October 27, I will be returning to the Jacaranda Tree Montessori in Amsterdam, for an open seminar “Raising Bilingual Children: Six building blocks for success”. This is my most popular seminar, and mainly given at schools, so an open event is rare! In the two-hour session we will look at (a little) theory and practice, to help parents understand why they should pursue bilingualism (or multilingualism) for their children, what it takes to be successful, and how to make a plan to get them there. It’s always a fun evening (for me too!) and a chance for parents to meet others who are on the same journey with their children.

Registration at via the Jacaranda Tree Montessori website.

Learning from the past?

Aboriginal people have a right to language. Unless we do something in this generation the languages will die in the next generation — the generation of my daughter.

— Lorena Fontaine, PhD student at the University of Manitoba

As a Canadian living abroad, I tend to focus on all the good things about our history and have an admittedly Pollyanna view of my passport country, including about educational issues. Yesterday, while commuting to work, I came up against a less savoury side of Canadian educational history. Listening to a CBC Ideas podcast, Undoing Linguicide, brought me face to face with the stories of the First Nations children who were taken away from their parents, over a period of more than a century, and sent to residential schools whose mandate was to eliminate the “indian” cultures and languages. Not only was this a barbaric idea, but the practices were barbaric as well, with schools functioning with rules that systematically separated siblings and punished heavily for the use of aboriginal languages. Lorena Fontaine, the lawyer/researcher featured in the program, is attempting to prove a case that the indigenous communities in Canada have a right to the survival of their languages, and to governmental support to reestablish what has been almost lost due to the residential school system. The history is complex and the podcast well worth listening to, as I can’t do their whole story justice. And of course, it’s a story that has been repeated in many places and times around the world, to many groups of indigenous peoples, it happened in France with the suppression of regional languages, and in Wales with the “Welsh Not” for children who dared to speak Welsh in schools, and many more.

In an era where hindsight has shown us that these practices were not acceptable and in an era of truth and reconciliation commissions and efforts to revive many endangered minority languages, it would seem that we have learned our lesson. Sadly, this is not entirely the case. Linguistic suppression does still happen, and although its guises are generally more subtle, it still is the same thing – prioritising one language as the “right” language, and other languages as “wrong”. It happens in schools where children and parents are told that their languages, their mother tongues, their home languages, are not acceptable. It happens in post-colonial Africa, where children are not allowed tuition in their own languages but instead forced to learn through a colonial language that they do not know. It happens in Suriname, where children need to go to school in Dutch – a language that they do not speak, they do not need, and is not a part of their world, but is considered to be a better vehicle for education than their own languages. It happens in international schools where children are told that they can play in their own languages, but must only use the school language in the classroom.

The agenda may not be as overt, and the punishments may no longer be physical, but for minority language speaking children, the results are the same. Minority languages, immigrant languages, refugee languages, hold no power in schools and children know this. And they abandon, by choice or by force, the language that they need to develop cognitively, to learn with, to connect with their families, their culture, their history.

So apparently, the lessons of history are far more easily forgotten than learned.

 

 

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

Raising Bilingual Children: Six building blocks for success (Amsterdam)

It’s that time a year again… once the school year is up and running, parents start thinking about how things are going with their little bilingual children. I meet more parents in the Sept-Nov block than at any other time of year! I visit many schools to provide parents with an opportunity to learn more about how to help their children become successfully bilingual. For readers who have children in schools that I don’t visit (sorry!) there is an open-invitation seminar next week in Amsterdam as well.

My “Raising Bilingual Children” seminar is one of my favourites; I’ve been working on it for years, and each family I meet contributes to my understanding on bilingual/multilingual families and adds to my “book learning” and research background. I pack as much good information as possible into the 2-hour session, along with some moments of humour and time for asking questions. So if you are raising your children with two or more languages, this session will give you a solid understanding of the elements for success, and how to consider your family situation to make the best plan possible (and then how to change the plan when you need to….).

Thursday, October 15, 20:00-22:00 at the Jacaranda Tree Montessori – you can register at the link below.

Raising Bilingual Children Seminar at the Jacaranda Tree

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.

Family Language Plan: When and why?

Every family raising bilingual children needs to have, at the very least, one family language plan. Ideally, they should start the planning process at the same time as they start all the other planning for baby preparations – during pregnancy.

A family language plan is a longitudinal plan that follows a child from birth (or later) through to the end of secondary school, to give the parents and child the best chance for success.  The process of creating a family language plan helps parents consider their options, prioritize, and take the necessary steps to reach their goals.  This includes goal-setting, mapping out where the input in each language will come from (in terms of people and time), how literacy will be approached in each language and how challenges will be dealt with. One plan is fine for families who are living permanently in one location. Families who move, or who may move, need to have alternate plans, each one designed for a certain set of circumstances. For example, a family who are living in the Netherlands, and speak German and Chinese, will have an initial plan that is based on the childcare/schooling opportunities available to them if they stay in the Netherlands. If there is a possibility of the family moving to an English-speaking country, they must have an alternate plan which outlines how they will adjust to continue to meet the goals of German/Chinese bilingualism, and how they will deal with Dutch, if it was a part of their plan. If there is a possibility of the family moving to Germany, they will also have an alternate plan that outlines their bilingual strategy for the target languages of German/Chinese, and any others that were part of their original plan, such as Dutch or English. As you can see, the more languages and life possibilities the family are dealing with, the more complex the planning process becomes! Although many families don’t formally write down the whole plan and alternate plans, the process of family language planning helps families understand the key elements for bilingual success, the the process of resourcing a plan, so that they can make changes as their needs and situation change.
The benefits to this type of planning are numerous, and include ensuring quality language input in a variety of situations, and also include elements such as support for literacy and additional languages. By anticipating the language needs of the children across different life circumstances, the parents have a better chance of guiding their children towards full and functional bilingualism.