IDEA #4: Get your Bilingual/Multilingual Learners to Vlog!

IDEA #4: Get your Bilingual/Multilingual Learners to Vlog!

Over this week, I’ll be sharing 5 posts-all of them focused on ideas for online learning with your BMLs. Since some teachers have limited access to their students and learning materials at this time, these ideas are quick-win strategies you can implement right away. This is blog post #4 out of 5. You can find the others in previous posts.

Vlogging, or video-blogging, is a great way to share knowledge, thoughts and ideas with the world. Especially at this time, vlogging can be a fun and interesting format for students to share things about themselves and their lives more meaningfully.

Having students vlog to highlight what they’re doing when they’re away from school can be a powerful collective activity. This pandemic provides us with a unique opportunity to connect with other parts of our lives we may not have had time for previously. ‘Slow’ is the new normal and many of us are finding different experiences to keep us busy and enrich our lives. It can be the same for students and their families. For instance, some are discovering cooking and baking; some are learning new hobbies like gardening or even playing board games. Vlogging can be a great way to bring spark motivation and interest amongst your learners and this can create a fabulous medium for conversation and discussion.

A GOOD PLACE TO START

You might like to start your learners off with ‘a day in the life’ vlog and ask them to upload short videos with an explanation of the content. Right now, we’re all getting a little taste of what we thought the future might be like–having to use online channels for basically everything–to communicate, connect and work. Vlogs can actually help your learners build greater connection with their peers and families and can build up their proficiency with storytelling.

Storytelling with multimedia is a high-value skill in our New Economy; so helping students become skilled at telling their own stories is not a waste of time! Storytelling often involves sharing with a specific purpose and we want our students to see that they need to be clear on their purpose before they begin their project. Have them think carefully planning and executing the creation (and sharing) of their stories.

Once again, don’t forget to provide clear prompts that get them to focus on the right content for the vlog. For example, you might want to pose a question like, ‘How is culture an important part of our daily life?’ and then do some brainstorming with students before they go out and film. After, get them to make a list of 3-5 ideas and ‘storyboard’ the shots they want to film (e.g. sketch an image of what they want to film in a series of square boxes). This will help them be more targeted about what on what they need to capture for their short film.

If you want to dig deeper into vlogging and storytelling with your students, there are numerous ways to do that depending on what your goals are. You could consider time-lapse videos, interviews, silent pictures or even a ‘docu-series’. If you’re feeling ambitious, you could also have a ‘film festival’ with a ‘watch party’, judges and awards! These are just a few ideas but your students will certainly have many more if you brainstorm together.

Alison Schofield is an educator, consultant and co-founder of the Centre for Educators of BMLs. She loves sharing her expertise with teachers around the world. She’s especially passionate about literacy and learning approaches with BMLs. If you have any questions about this article or even an idea for another article, feel free to reach Alison at: alison@educatorsofbmls.com

IDEA #3: Spark Learning with Home Languages & Home Activities for Bilingual & Multilingual Learners

IDEA #3: Spark Learning with Home Languages & Home Activities for Bilingual & Multilingual Learners

Over this week, I’ll be sharing 5 posts-all of them focused on ideas for online learning with your BMLs. Since some teachers have limited access to their students and learning materials at this time, these ideas are quick-win strategies you can implement right away. This is blog post #3 out of 5. You can find the others in previous posts.

Let’s face it, online learning can be a really stressful time for students, teachers and parents. There’s a huge learning curve and many educators are finding their BMLs are not as responsive or participatory as they’d like.

Engagement and participation are key elements of successful learning, no matter what style or format– in-person, online or blended models. Quality learning takes place when students are interested and motivated to demonstrate what they’ve learned . Both of these factors can be negatively impacted with online learning since many BMLs rely heavily on human connection and social interaction for support. For example, they often require gestures and social cues from the environment to scaffold their comprehension. This can be extremely difficult to replicate in online learning formats, especially if there are many learners in ‘class’ and several competing distractions to cope with.

As much as some wanted to believe that online learning would solve the ills of traditional education, this pandemic has shown us just how valuable face-to-face interaction with educators truly is. Online learning always presented a wonderful opportunity for student enrichment; but a human component was always going to be necessary. For BMLs, it’s absolutely critical.

If teachers aren’t able to reach their BMLs right now, it’s completely understandable. There are just so many ups-and-downs. One day might be productive and students manage to participate fully; but then another might see students overwhelmed and unreachable. This unpredictability can take its toll on teachers who are naturally trying to over-compensate, even trying to connect with BMLs in a multitude of different ways–through phone calls, chats or regular emails, for instance. The lengths that many teachers are going through to connect with their students is truly inspiring but in many ways, unsustainable.

Considering all these issues, teachers should feel free to embrace non-traditional forms of learning. For some who may not be used to incorporating students’ home languages into their teaching, there’s never been a better time! Since many BMLs have strong home languages and are even literate in those languages, this makes it the perfect resource to support their thinking and learning.

I know it can seem counter-intuitive, especially if you’re supposed to teach your student English; but don’t forget that one’s languages actually support one-another. If you remember the CUP (Common Underlying Proficiency) theory from Jim Cummins, it explains how the linguistic knowledge and skills that an individual acquires in one language can be shared across all of their languages. When BMLs are using their home languages to research, think and discuss, that’s actually going to help them with their English development AND their concept-learning. Just that little bit of information packs a very powerful punch, especially considering these trying times!

DIFFERENT WAYS OF LEARNING THROUGH HOME LANGUAGES

  • Flip the ‘Classroom’: Have your students learn key concepts through some form of self-study before they come to the lesson. Then, instead of actively trying to ‘teach’ and break down these concepts, you’re able to ‘work with the concepts’ more actively as students already understand the background information. This could mean having deep discussions about specific concepts or getting students to create something based on what they’ve learned. The key to making a flipped classroom work is that you need to be sure you scaffold the learning expectations for them. BMLs often thrive with clear steps to follow so offer them a graphic organiser to record 2-3 key questions they have to research. This will give them the structure they need to follow through.
  • Write a Journal Entry: Have BMLs write in their home languages if they’re comfortable. Encourage them to explore a range of topics (either teacher-directed or student-selected) and then let them share some of their writing entries if they’d like. Students can even summarise what they’ve written in English (at their own levels).
  • Connect with a Good Book: Ask students to read a good book in their language. They might already have some books around the house but if not, they might be able to find some online books available to them for free (or a small fee) online.
  • Allow Students to Showcase Hobbies and Talents: Many BMLs are spending more time with their families; often speaking their home languages. This is great–not only for building their language skills but also for fostering engagement and shared experiences through those languages. Some children might be spending more time playing Lego, learning to cook, playing Backgammon or even singing and dancing. Think of different ways students can showcase their talents and home activities with their classmates. While we often think of traditional forms of learning as more valuable; play, creating and using one’s talents are just as powerful for personal and social-development.

Even if your BMLs don’t have a strong home language and prefer to use English, they can still receive many benefits from the activities above. These can facilitate independence and success, even if they’ve traditionally required more support from their teachers to break down their learning.

Online learning is not always an ideal solution for activating deep, connected learning for BMLs, or any students. However, these unprecedented times call for creative approaches that make full use of what we already have–different languages, talents, resources and role models. I encourage teachers to give themselves permission ‘let go’ a little and allow home experiences to take the lead in your students’ learning if it means they’re more engaged and motivated. Let students help develop their own learning plan ot outline a list of pursuits for the week. These experiences can then be the catalyst for more sharing and participation during ‘class.’ Parents too, might also feel they can better facilitate their child’s learning and development with this approach. It can even build family connection, reduce stress and increase happiness and well-being.

Alison Schofield is an educator, consultant and Co-Founder of the Centre for Educators of BMLs. She loves sharing her expertise with teachers around the world and she’s especially passionate about literacy and learning approaches with BMLs. If you have any questions about this article or even a request for another article, feel free to reach Alison at: alison@educatorsofbmls.com

IDEA #2: Start a Read-Aloud During Online Learning with these Storytime Resources

IDEA #2: Start a Read-Aloud During Online Learning with these Storytime Resources

Over this week, I’ll be sharing 5 posts-all of them focused on ideas for online learning with your BMLs. Since some teachers have limited access to their students and learning materials at this time, these ideas are quick-win strategies you can implement right away. This is blog post #2 out of 5. You can find the others in previous posts.

Regardless of the age of your students, it’s probably safe to say they like being read to. There’s just something magical about picturing the characters and story setting and watching the plot play out, step-by-step. From a language acquisition standpoint, stories allow students to actively listen and process information, build meaning, understand cause-and-effect and develop vocabulary. These are pretty powerful things! I should also mention that vocabulary-building is one of the single-most valuable benefits to students. A large vocabulary has been shown to be a great predictor of academic success.

Reading is so powerful that memories of stories, plots and characters can last a lifetime. They elicit strong emotions and can ignite a real spark for reading. During this difficult time in our history, reading good books can offer some escapism since they hold the power to add colour to what might be perceived as grey days in some of your students’ memories.

To get started, choose a book that’s likely to capture your learners’ interest but ensure that it’s still got some ‘meat and bones’ to generate a good discussion. Be sure the theme is a good fit for the students and your particular learning context.

If you don’t have access to any storybooks right now, there are so many offerings (cheap or free) that you can access online during this pandemic. Here’s just a few:  

  • Be sure to check your local library. Many offer subscriptions to ebooks and provide you with information about content, reading levels and themes within the books. Usually, all you need is a library card to access their collections.
  • Kindle Books: If you’re working with older students and/or secondary students, you might want to select a chapter book for daily readings. Kindle books are quite reasonably-priced with an average cost around $3.99 USD. There’s literally millions to choose from but here is a list of the most popular Kindle books for young adults. **Please note: you might also want to search for books that represent diverse authors and themes based on the backgrounds of your students and what will be of interest (and have relevance) for them. Here is another ‘most popular’ list of kindle books that are from a multicultural perspective:

Most Popular Kindle Books for Young Adults: https://amzn.to/3cFWUvd

Most Popular, Diverse/Multicultural Kindle Books: https://amzn.to/3bBXskC

  • Storyline Online: This is a great site with videos of celebrities reading children’s books. It’s complete with audio effects and stunning visuals of the books. It’s mainly targeted to young learners from K-Grade 2 (Reception – Year 3). https://www.storylineonline.net/
  • Barnes & Noble: This is a great (American) Youtube channel from the famous New York bookstore. They offer read alouds by authors but those are mainly for young children. https://www.youtube.com/barnesandnoble
  • Magic Keys: Although a bit out-dated and simplistic, Magic Keys provides short stories you can read aloud for young children, older children and young adults. The books also offer some pictures. http://www.magickeys.com/books/#ya
  • Big Universe: This is a literacy solution for K-12 that provides free access to those affected by covid-19. It’s a subscription/membership service under normal conditions. It provides more than 17,000 leveled books from more than 40 publishers, including subject-related topics (e.g. science, social studies, etc.). https://start.k12.com/national.html?st=big-universe
  • Storybooks Canada: promotes bilingual and multilingual maintenance through 40 stories offered in different languages. Story levels are for beginning readers to approximately grade 3/year 4. Learners can access the text in their language, along with pictures and audio recordings. www.storybookscanada.ca

Reading stories can seem like a simple solution to engagement and motivation but don’t forget that it’s still a complex language task that will naturally create many benefits for students’ language development and learning. These are all very good reasons to start reading to your students today but probably the very best is that your students will be begging you not to put the book away!

Alison Schofield is an educator, consultant and co-founder of the Centre for Educators of BMLs. She loves sharing her expertise with teachers around the world. She’s especially passionate about literacy and learning approaches with BMLs. If you have any questions about this article or even an idea for an article, feel free to reach Alison at: alison@educatorsofbmls.com

ONLINE LEARNING IDEAS THAT WORK FOR BMLS        (Idea #1:  Just Keep them Talking)

ONLINE LEARNING IDEAS THAT WORK FOR BMLS (Idea #1: Just Keep them Talking)

Over this week, I’ll be sharing 5 posts-all of them focused on ideas for online learning with your BMLs. Since some teachers have limited access to their students and learning materials at this time, these ideas are quick-win strategies you can implement right away.

I know ‘talking’ almost sounds too simple, but let’s be honest, talking creates unlimited opportunities and BMLs will gain so many benefits by building up their conversation skills. Conversation or rich discussions, can allow you to explore a variety of topics and interests with your students. You can literally talk about anything and everything. You can even let your students’ experiences be the ‘curriculum’ and dive as deep as you can on topics that excite, interest and motivate them. When you have focused conversations, you’re naturally visiting a variety of vocabulary words-some of which the learner might already be familiar with, and some which may be new. There’s a sort of ‘art’ to a good discussion and that usually includes enjoyment as a natural side-effect. If you’re not able to give your BMLs much ‘organised learning’ during this time, you can still be confident in knowing that speaking with your students regularly offers them a great deal of language enrichment.

If your learners already have some conversation skills, it’s much easier to keep things flowing; but don’t worry, you can still have ‘talk time’ with your Newcomers as well.

The secret to speaking so that BMLs learn new words is to make sure the input you’re providing is just slightly beyond their current level. According to researcher Stephen Krashen, this approach is optimal. As educators, we already apply this strategy across many aspects of our teaching and we refer to this as ‘scaffolding.’ When you consistently scaffold the conversations you have with your learners, they’ll be better able to understand and recall new words they’re exposed to.

To make good impact through speaking, the key is to fully explore ideas and topics that students are interested in. Try to introduce a few new words over the week. Start to use them repetitively within your conversations but make this process as natural as possible. Did you know that an individual has to hear a word more than 12 times in order to learn it? Putting this at the forefront of our minds will help us become more deliberate with the specific words we want to use during our conversations. For example, if you know that ‘record’ is an important word for students, you can start to work it into your conversations. Be aware that you’ll need to use some visual/physical prompts to model the word initially (e.g. “I’m going to ‘record’ my answer on this page” while showing yourself writing the word on the paper). Then, over the next few days as you interact with the learner, just keep giving them exposure to your target words across various situations. Over time, you’ll have learners begin to demonstrate their understanding by using some of these new words. Also, be sure to mix up your style of conversation regularly so that you offer up more contexts for students to actively use the target words. Try to have more ‘academic’ discussions like debates, for example. Pose question prompts about topics they’re learning about (or have already learned about) and discuss world events at a level that’s appropriate for their age and language. Varying topics unlocks a new door to a different range of words. Speaking (and listening) can actually be a major source of learning for individuals. In the past, many indigenous communities used only the power of speaking and oral storytelling to pass along knowledge, traditions and customs. For centuries, ideas were preserved through this form of sharing.

If you have learners who are completely new to English, you’ll of course be the only one making all the conversation. That can get boring quick! The best thing to do in this case is to bring in some props and use those to build the conversation around. You can have learners share artwork they’ve made, their favourite toy or something else meaningful. Your job for students at this level is to model language by ‘labeling’ the items as you go (e.g. “I like that red shirt. There’s the shirt..” while pointing, etc.) and if possible, asking simple questions about it (e.g. “Do you like red?”). You might think of this as a form of ‘Show and Tell’ and it’s actually effective for all ages. You can also keep things interesting by sharing some of your own items during the session. This can help build rapport between yourself and your learners.

Conversation is a meeting of minds with different memories and habits. When minds meet, they don’t just exchange facts: they transform them, reshape them, draw different implications from them, engage in new trains of thought. Conversation doesn’t just reshuffle the cards: it creates new cards.     – Theodore Zeldin

Now that you’ve learned all the benefits of conversation, don’t forget to implement it as a key part of your online lessons. Even if learning is challenging and talking is all you can do right now, your students will still reap the rewards of this high-quality, language-boosting activity.

Alison Schofield is an educator, consultant and co-founder at the Centre for Educators of BMLs. She loves sharing her expertise with teachers around the world. She’s especially passionate about literacy and learning approaches with BMLs. If you have any questions about this article, feel free to reach Alison at: alison@educatorsofbmls.com

Q & A : How do I Find Time for Vocabulary Teaching?

Q & A : How do I Find Time for Vocabulary Teaching?

This is a question from Tarek, who teaches both Middle and High students:

I understand how important vocabulary is but honestly, with all the pressures of the curriculum, I can’t find the time to dedicate to vocabulary study. What do you suggest?

I know how you feel. The curriculum can get very heavy at these stages and it can also have overwhelming expectations related to exams, etc. 

What I’m going to tell you next is a little strange so…get ready: focusing  your efforts on ‘vocabulary instruction’ is equivalent to the idea that 1+1 = 5. In other words, the efforts that you make ‘paying into’ vocabulary instruction with your students will actually create MORE RESULTS than you expect. That’s why it’s so important for you to make it an active part of your teaching. As we all know, vocabulary provides word knowledge but it actually opens up access to multiple dimensions of learning. Vocabulary learning will allow students to:

  • INCREASE word knowledge 
  • Be better able to COMPREHEND TEXTS (e.g. potentially increasing their reading levels but at the same time, allowing them greater ability to ACTUALLY LEARN FROM READING)
  • Express their thoughts at a HIGHER LEVEL for more advanced reading and writing
  • BUILD UNDERSTANDING of the different aspects of language and grammar (e.g. learn about word patterns and word features)

As you can see, dedicating quality time to vocabulary-learning will give your students many more rewards than you bargained for! It’s not only about learning new words, you’ll be enabling them to BETTER ABSORB the curriculum concepts you’re ready to teach. This is invaluable. The key is knowing that vocabulary instruction doesn’t just mean deliberate teaching of words (e.g. through word lists, quizzes, sentence-writing, etc.); it should also be deeply embedded in your academic (curriculum) discussions and writing activities. Do use some deliberate teaching methods but as you go about your planning, think about activities that will naturally create opportunities to use the target vocabulary words. Plan a variety of group discussions, journal writing and projects since these naturally lend themselves to easy and active use of vocabulary.

I hope now you’re able to understand that vocabulary-teaching doesn’t have to take up so much time and it shouldn’t be thought of in isolation of your curriculum-related activities. You need to think of vocabulary-learning as a natural part of the teaching and learning and as a way to super-charge your students’ learning potential! Then you’ll be more motivated to find new ways to incorporate it into your lessons. I promise you that with consistent attention in this area, you’ll start to see real results in your students’ language, literacy and learning skills.

Are you a teacher, principal or teaching assistant? Would you like to gain more expertise about vocabulary-teaching and other important concepts related to teaching BMLs? If so, learn more about our courses.

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