Supporting students' emotional, intellectual, physical, and spiritual well-being is the basis of my practice, and this can really only be accomplished if students know you value them as individuals with different life and learning experiences. I recently had a conversation with a student about English fluency, dual language acquisition, and superficial school expectations and it was so illuminating and relevant to this week's module. It showed me how deeply complex multilingual skill acquisition is, and how teachers can help their students develop both their L1 and L2 by engaging with each student on a personal/intellectual level to find out their own understandings of their education.
The student in mind is seventeen, had been educated in the states for a few years when she was young, moved to Korean public school for her middle school years, and began high school at my current school in which students graduate with a bilingual International Baccalaureate diploma (Korean and English). She told me that when she entered this school, her Korean language skills were well developed, and her English skills were much lower because she had lost the skills she developed when she was younger as they weren't used in the Korean public school. She expected both her languages to develop here, but she is finding that her Korean has stagnated (if not declined) and her written academic English is much improved but feels deeply inadequate in spoken academic and BICS English. Essentially, because she speaks casually in Korean with classmates but not academically, and her coursework is based on academic writing and structured oral assessments (as per the IB curriculum) she is not encouraged to develop both her languages in the same way even though she technically attends a bilingual school. Even more fascinating, when I asked her about concept development in Korean vs. English, she said that because the assignments are completed in English, her peers do not talk about academic work in Korean...they don't bother to understand the concepts or learning outcomes in their mother tongue because that creates more work for them.
She mentioned that she feels inadequate because she isn't fluent (i.e. comfortable) in either her L1 or L2 and I suggested to her that the fact we had this conversation in the first place indicates a high level of fluency. I learned that in an environment focused on a rigid view of academic success, true multilingual skill acquisition falls by the wayside to make room for memorization and highly specialized vocabulary.
Teachers should know that learning programs for English Language Learners involves creating a complex network of skills and knowledge development in both the L1 and L2. I also think the more teachers understand that language affects the way we think, the way we make sense of the world, the more likely we are to truly value multilingual education. As an English speaker who loves to travel around the world, I've been inadvertently taught that my language has a type of cultural hegemony others want to understand and have access to. I have tried to learn five languages, and never moved past the introductory phases because it was challenging and frankly there was no need for me to communicate in these L2s. I am learning so much about my own linguistic assumptions in my current position, and think that an important way for teachers to meet the needs of ELLs is to constantly evaluate our own assumptions and values as they manifest in our lessons, assessments, conversations, and curriculum interpretations daily.
The constructivist approach to teaching is grounded in Vygotsky's theories of learning. He developed the idea that social interaction is fundamental to language learning. Children interact with people older and more knowledgeable than them in daily situations, and the children then desire to communicate effectively. As the social interactions occur again and again, the children's linguistic and communicative competences rise. The notion of "the more knowledgeable other" has direct implications for the classroom because we can incorporate a plethora of activities that engage students in dialouge-based social settings. Thinking about the individual students' Zone of Proximal Development in a social environment can also help establish a "reciprocal learning" environment, where the students and the teacher construct knowledge together (as opposed to the teacher "transferring" knowledge to the students).
Vygotsky's theories are important for working with students learning English because sociocultural contexts influence learning, and our classroom is an ever-changing sociocultural hub of new experiences. The students share linguistic experiences daily, and purposefully designing tasks that match the students ZPD and their language proficiency is important. It gives their prior learning and L1 a validated place in the classroom. In particular, designing lessons/activities that give students opportunities to converse, while matching their L1 language to CALP or to abstract concepts needed for academic success, can be very powerful.
Additional source: David L, "Social Development Theory (Vygotsky)," in Learning Theories, July 23, 2014, https://www.learning-theories.com/vygotskys-social-learning-theory.html
The broad approach to learning that Chompsky falls into is the nativist approach, which asserts all humans have a natural ability to gain knowledge and language. More specifically, all humans understand fundamental structures in languages, and our first language develops as we are exposed to more and more language patterns that we can match to that underlying structure. Chompsky's assertion that a Universal Language exists is being actively contested by scientists, linguists, and scholars today. These new findings suggest that multiple cognitive, biological, and social processes are involved in children's language development (see this article as a start! https://www.salon.com/2016/09/10/what-will-universal-grammar-evidence-rebuts-chomskys-theory-of-language-learning_partner/).
Despite the current controversies present in the academic community, Chompsky's theories do have implications for working with English language learners. Using sentence structure and vocabulary frequently, and as a method for learning how to read and write different types of texts, is extremely helpful for ELLs who are focused on improving their CALP. Offering "key sentences" that can be used in argumentative, explanatory, procedural, and reflective writing can give students a framework in the L2 that they can match their L1 understanding to. It can help them internalize the L2 grammar more efficiently, as clear patters within the grammar can be drawn with repeated use.
Lemetyinen, H. (2012). Language acquisition. SimplyPsychology. Retrieved fromwww.simplypsychology.org/language.html
Behaviorists like Skinner argue that speech is shaped by adults responding to children's utterances with positive and negative reinforcement. The theory rests on the use of operant conditioning, in which positive and negative reinforcement are used to modify behaviour. Skinner's belief that language can be learned this way is almost directly at odds with Chomsky's belief that language learning is innate.
Skinner's beliefs about the importance of positive reinforcement, in which a favorable result is given to the person or group after a desired behaviour is performed, has a number of implications for the classroom. While often associated with classroom management and student behavior, I think positive reinforcement is also valuable for encouraging ELL participation and productive L1 use. Responding positively to students' use of the L1 to understand course material, engage in discussion, or make cross-cultural connections may encourage their self-esteem and identity creation because these are being welcomed in the class.
David L, "Classical and Operant Conditioning (Skinner)," in Learning Theories, June 19,2015, https://www.learning-theories.com/operant-conditioning-skinner.html.
McLeod, S. A. (2015). Skinner - operant conditioning. Retrieved fromwww.simplypsychology.org/operant-conditioning.html
I think the verbal-linguistic, interpersonal and intrapersonal intelligences are my main strengths. I learn by reading, talking, and writing. Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences resonates intuitively with my experiences. It always bothered me that people I know categorized themselves as 'book smart' or 'street smart' and their strengths that didn't fit either category would be brushed aside. Viewing the human intellect in a more nuanced way, as Gardner did, makes these strengths equally important in identity creation and teaching to students' learning styles. It celebrates diversity in a way that supports the notion that one person's idea of success is not the only manifestation of success.
Breaking down the traditional view of intelligence, grounded in the 20th century Euro-centric understanding of humanity, is one of MI's greatest contributions to education. It gives teachers (who may have always felt intuitively that all students have different strengths and needs) a theoretical framework to argue this belief from, and from which to build assessments and activities in a really purposeful way.
As an English and Humanities teacher, I also think designing courses with this in mind allows for more freedom and exploration away from the Canon and a Western lens that is not necessarily written into the curriculum but is common practice because that was how teachers were taught. In the "Tapping into Multiple Intelligences" website, they describe MI as justifying the use of visual arts, music and dance in the classroom because they "can be just as valuable to students' understanding of the world they live in as traditional academic subjects". Shifting our personal goals for education toward this nuanced view of intelligence can support student individuality, self-esteem, and inquisitiveness.
The benefits that applying MI when creating units, lessons, and assignments are amplified versions of what I described above. Having the option to express their knowledge, thinking processes, and analytic skills in ways that do not depend on their written or oral skills in English can relieve pressure from the student and build their self-esteem because they can complete the work successfully! However, when given these options the ELLs I have worked with often chose the traditional written assignment. The 'creative' options were seen as 'less academic' and therefore not worth their time (I asked why they repeatedly chose these, and this was the answer). When I created activities and assessments that did not use the typical verbal-linguistic skills, they would resist and go through the motions without applying themselves.
From reflecting on these experiences, I think that incorporating MI works to the extent that the community values these broader understandings of the human intellect - not in words, but in actions. The syllabus, the rubrics, the classroom decorations, the extent of interdisciplinary teaching, the approach to standardized testing, parent-teacher outreach, staff meeting discussions, and school-wide policies all need to support the belief that students have a varying set of intelligences and that their skills and knowledge will develop as they work toward their individual potentials. It is certainly not easy, but using Gardner's words and theories give us all a shared vocabulary that helps us develop and further this shared belief.
Many of my previous posts address changes to classroom environments that I have been exposed to. In terms of furniture and layout, it would change depending on the needs of that day's lesson: pods of desks for group work, desks at the wall and chairs in a circle for community building, comfortable chairs/beanbags for reading time, desks in pairs for some activities...I would try to subvert the traditional 'teacher-at-front' environment as much as I could.
A safe-space for students includes them in the daily creation of that safe space. To me this means including materials that the students want to be surrounded by - things that they create, photos they find that connect to what we're learning, quotes and posters that remind them of the need to critically think, inquire, and explore their identities and assumptions. It also means, as the OHRC video describes, involving students in creating solutions for the problems they face. Major barriers to accessing education for English Language Learners can be their language abilities, trauma they've experienced, social stigmas, or cognitive/behavioural learning needs that haven't been addressed. Learning about the students in our classrooms, being proactive with paperwork necessary to allocate resources properly, and collaborating with the students' other teachers are all ways teachers can begin to tackle those barriers. However, at every step of the way, the students (and their parents/guardians) should be brought into the discussion. Transparency in this process can do a lot to mitigate the harms associated with schooling for FNMI students, as well as students with limited prior schooling who do not have experience with this system. In this way, teachers are organically modeling the need for social justice among their students: they are demonstrating that it is everyone's responsibility to change procedures and systems that are harmful to others, and to act in an inclusive and respectful manner.
The initial assessment students receive when they enter the school is crucial for giving the student a strong, positive, resource-filled start at the school, rather than feeling thrown into the crowd with no support. From the readings, it is clear that this is an extremely collaborative activity that, while needs to be handled procedurally, can happen at any time and with any number of challenges and unexpected factors. Parents may or may not be involved; the student may come at the beginning, middle, or end of the semester; an interpreter (if necessary) may or may not be available; the student may or may not have received a reception assessment at a designated center; the student may or may not have any paperwork with them... overall, we need to be prepared at all times to engage in this process and in such a way that reflects the student's needs/abilities/background/circumstances. During my time as an ELL teacher in a private academy, my boss often asked me to assess students' English abilities. However, there was no established procedures, no warning that a student was coming in, and no accountability to the student or the school - it was basically a ball-park estimate of what level of English the student was at. I was familiar with the STEP program and stuck to that as much as I could, but still felt stressed because I wanted to give a fair and accurate assessment of the students' strengths and needs and simply felt inadequate to achieve this. Reflecting on that experience, I believe that preparation is key. As Coehlo mentions in Language and Learning in Multilingual Classrooms, there are a number of items that will go into a student's file to be assessed holistically including the assessment interview (with possible versions in a variety of languages), samples of visual and textual material that the student can identify as familiar or not, along with photos and short response paragraphs for assessing their oral and written responses in the L2.
When developing these assessments, we need to think about the questions that can best illuminate a holistic understanding of the individual student. Asking a variety of name questions like 'What do you want to be called?' rather than 'What is your name?' is a good way to get clarification but also to begin the assessment process by giving the student a sense of agency. I would also try to have visual aids for the basic school questions: different pages of textbooks, photos of different jobs; a scale-style tool for "how well" questions...things that the student can use to express themselves that do not rely on spoken English. This would allow for a smooth transition into the picture response, as well, hopefully creating an informal and comfortable conversational atmosphere.
The first time I came across Ladson-Billings' (1995) "Toward a Theory of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy" I thought, Yes, this is obviously what teachers should do! In the article, she talks about the teachers she observed as risk-takers and ethical practitioners who enter the classroom with the belief that each individual can succeed. She says in her conclusion:
"A common question asked by practitioners is, 'Isn't what you described just 'good teaching?' And, while I do not deny that it is good teaching, I pose a counter question: why does so little of it seem to occur in classrooms populated by African-American students? Another question that arises is whether or not this pedagogy is so idiosyncratic that only 'certain' teachers can engage in it. I would argue that the diversity of these teachers and the variety of teaching strategies they employed challenge that notion. The common feature they shared was a classroom practice grounded in what they believed about the educability of the students"
Her notion of the educability of the students is at the heart of what the CBS monograph is attempting to address, and is what I see as a major positive change in education in Ontario. Teachers who can reflect on their own socio-cultural position, their own politics and intersectionalities, and their understandings of student learning are in a better position to help each student meet their individual potentials. I believe this because I believe we teach who we are, and our held beliefs are a part of the "hidden curriculum" that needs to be explicitly addressed in our classrooms (Supporting ELLs with Limited Prior Schooling, 2008, p. 11). Furthermore, creating space for these discussions can make culturally responsive pedagogy a tool for establishing inclusive practices among student-to-student relationships. If we can model the "careful acknowledgment, respect, and an understanding of difference and its complexities," then we can help ELLs situate themselves within the class and feel a sense of agency in the creation of their environment (Culturally Relevant Pedagogy, 2013, p. 2). This may be especially important, if, as the readings point out, students' tumultuous experiences have uprooted or altered their identities.
Establishing a classroom environment where everyone is to be held accountable for everyone else's learning is another way of encouraging and supporting all students in the classroom to succeed. Co-creating a list of classroom values and expectations (as opposed to rules) can be a way to explore their backgrounds in a meaningful way that highlights "student diversity in terms of student strengths" (Culturally Relevant Pedagogy, 2013, p. 2). A community, value-based approach to classroom structure can open up avenues for students with limited prior learning or language learning needs to reach out too their peers, and for their peers to feel a sense of responsibility in these students' learning because it "validates and affirms the cultural capital that our students bring the classroom each and every day" ((Culturally Relevant Pedagogy, 2013, p. 8). Ontarians are working hard to critically answer the questions Ladson-Billings raised in her paper's conclusion, and in doing so bring good teaching into every classroom. The Ministry's emphasis on institutional, instructional, and personal dimensions of CRP can be seen in they
myriad of policy changes, programs, and professional development that support educators in enacting their beliefs about the educability of all students.
Side note: While teachers are making progress, the fixed mindset Ladson-Billings' work pushes against is certainly not gone from classrooms today. I came across this spoken word piece a few weeks ago and think it offers a valuable perspective to explore in our discussion of CRP: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y0mHLnwRzxE
I am an enthusiastic and conscientious educator. I use my blog to connect my personal experiences and adventures to my pedagogy.