The Centre for Educators of BMLs is so pleased to share our latest global initiative, ‘BML SMART Nurseries.’ Aligned with our vision to spread expertise about bilingual and multilingual learners to educators around the world, this initiative provides special recognition to those nurseries who train at least 80% of their teachers in our 4-hour Nursery and Preschool Teachers course, ‘Bilingual & Multilingual Learners from the Inside-Out.’
This course fills a gap in training at a critical time when parents are thinking about raising their child with home languages, and often looking for the right advice and guidance. In many cases, nurseries (daycares, preschools, childcare centres) are the first places of support that parents turn to. However, most nursery or preschool teachers never receive any training to help them advise parents or understand the specific needs of bilingual children and families. Since there are so many myths and misunderstandings about raising a child bi/multilingually, it’s absolutely critical that parents receive the right information. Not having access to accurate information can mean that families’ home languages are not maintained. This can mean a child who had a natural opportunity to become bilingual, does not learn their home language and instead speaks only one language. Besides language loss, this can also mean loss of cultural information and connections to extended family.
Nursery educators can take our 4-hour, online course and with 80% or more of their staff trained, can become recognised as a nursery with enhanced expertise in bilingual and multilingual learners, a ‘BML SMART Nursery.’
If you’re working in a state-regulated school, you will typically find all kinds of documentation related to the provisions for students with special educational needs (S.E.N./Special Ed.) and bilingual/multilingual learners.
However, if you’re working in an international or private school where there are no regulations in your region, then this can make your role particularly challenging. Policies and practises in these schools often change with the Head or the staff in charge. This means that procedures can be transient or unclear to teachers from year-to-year; leaving a great deal open to individual interpretation.
Our bilingual and multilingual learners (BMLs, ELL, EAL students) are very vulnerable to being incorrectly labeled or referred to special education services. In fact, many of the behaviours, which teachers might typically characterise as a result of a learning disability or language processing disorder, can actually occur quite naturally in the context of BMLs’ developing language . This makes it criticallyimportant to have highly-trained teachers and leaders who have a solid understanding of these issues; since inappropriate policies or decision-making processes can actually lead to students being misdiagnosed. This, of course, can have serious repercussions.
One of the Biggest Challenges Schools Face with their Service Provisions for BMLs
One of the main questions to begin asking yourself when designing your service model for students with special educational needs is – are you qualified to do so?
This is a heavy question to begin with but it reallyshouldbe. Issues surrounding special educational needs alone can be complicated at best; but extending them to bilingual and multilingual learners can add even deeper layers of complexity to the situation. For example, each and every school needs to have considerations that examine a BML’s language and medical background, if/when any concerns arise. This means that educators must know and understand whether the child in question has experienced a language switch; or whether they have had enough input in one language or another. These instances alone can play a significant role in understanding why BMLs might be experiencing particular challenges in the classroom. These kind of concerns can typically be dealt with effectively without special educational referral – simply by collecting the right information about the student and from the family on admission. Having these kinds of details (as well as other BML-specific issues) clearly written out in policies for all to follow, will ensure there are at least some basic ‘filters’ which prevent the inappropriate referral of BMLs to special educational services.
Designing the Right Service Delivery Model for your School
Another major issue we’ve seen with schools when designing their service delivery models for special educational support is that they create it as a ‘class’ that support teachers activelyteach by default on the school timetable. While some of the supports teachers provide will be clearly useful, having this kind of strict model prevents specialist teachers from moving around flexibly to provide observation or guidance to teachers at the earliest stages of concern. Most specialist teachers do not have any flexible space in their timetable to move around the school or plan with colleagues. It’s actually much more advantageous for support teachers to have a flexible schedule where they can liaise with colleagues and plan a range of strategic interventions with identified students.
This kind of consultative model allows for a much faster and a broader spread of expertise to students and teachers, when they need it. However, designing an effective, wrap-around service like this needs careful planning, strategising and expertise.
What Can you Do?
If you are interested in developing a new student support service model or enhancing the existing provisions at your school, feel free to reach out to us. We have extensive experience working in this area and can provide you with everything you need to create sound policies, procedures and supports. Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Alison Schofield is an Educational Consultant and Co-Founder at the Centre for Educators of BMLs. She brings a wealth of experience from her previous roles as a behaviour therapist and disability support specialist, having worked closely with psychologists and psychiatrists. Alison has also trained as a special education teacher and worked as a Learning Support Coordinator during her time as an international educator. She brings this unique knowledge-base to her work with BMLs.
“Every two weeks a language disappears, taking with it an entire cultural and intellectual heritage. At least 43% of the estimated 6000 languages spoken in the world are endangered. Only a few hundred languages have genuinely been given a place in education systems and the public domain, and less than a hundred are used in the digital world.”
This year, we’d like to celebrate the achievements of the schools and educators who’ve come onto our courses over the years. We’ve watched as they leave (often unknowingly!) as ‘preservers’ of students’ home languages and cultures. To all of you: please know that your good work will have a priceless, positive impact for many students and families.
To help kick off International Mother Language Day this year, we’ve prepared an amazing free resource for you and your school. Hint: it’s something to celebrate the local language of your country/region AND you can do it together as a school community. Scratching your head? No worries, you can get the resource just by downloading it HERE. It will only be available for one week though, so do it quickly!
Also, watch our short YouTube video below. It explains what happens when trained teachers become language preservers and protectors!
Being a teacher of bilingual and multilingual learners (BMLs, ESL, ELL students) can be pretty challenging, even organisations in the conventional classroom setup. When the world is quickly migrating into the digital world, it can even be more difficult to meet the demands of an online learning space for BMLs (also known as English Language Learners or ESL students).
And so, if you’re lost in translation when it comes to setting up your digital classroom in the best way possible, just know that there are so many invaluable tools and resources that can help you make the best of online learning or even just blended learning within a typical classroom setting. Some have premium fees, while others are entirely free. Regardless, all of these resources provide free insights and content to upgrade your teaching. At the end of the day, every classroom is unique to its teacher and their learners, so only you can decide what resources are best for your students.
To help you out, we’ve begun to develop a comprehensive list of tools and resources that we’ll keep updating. If you have any suggestions for us, please send us an email to add your recommendation to our list (email@example.com).
We know parents want to be on top of their child’s education. TalkingPoints makes two-way communication with families, who are multicultural or multilingual, faster and easier. Similar to Microsoft Translate, TalkingPoints immediately translates text messages (on web and mobile apps) written in another language to a language that is understood by the recipient. There are about 100 home languages available for translation. Unlike Microsoft Translate, however, this tool’s interface is specifically designed for educators to connect with families (some of whom may also be from low-income or under-resourced backgrounds). This is a great tool for communicating effectively with your BMLs’ parents. Plus, it’s always free for teachers.
Watch a one-minute video about Talking Points HERE.
Another platform that is designed to foster effective communication between teachers, students, and parents is Remind. In contrast to TalkingPoints, Remind allows teachers to communicate with families and students by scheduling class announcements, sending home updates and receiving ‘read receipts.’ The ‘preferred language translation’ option allows parents to receive messages in their home languages via translation. The free version of the platform gives access to basic messaging and team management, and the premium version gives more tools for smoother communication and language translation.
What is translation resources talk without Google Translate? Not only is Google Translate very accessible to all, but it’s also a pretty nifty, web-based app that automatically detects the language of unknown words and/or phrases that you would need to translate to English. Using Google Translate is definitely fitting for teachers across all levels. Even middle school to high school students may find it very useful when doing their English language tasks and homework.
Another translation platform that one can try is DeepL Translator. DeepL provides both the web-based and computer app versions and allows you to upload your document files (in .pdf and .pptx form) directly into the platform for translation. Reviews say that you get a more cohesive translation instead of just the word-for-word translation that usually comes from other platforms.
For group interactions, Microsoft Translator may also come in handy as another translator. It’s excellent for translations in real-time – a tremendous game-changer in breaking the language barrier when having multilingual students. As one speaks or writes, the other individual on the receiving end may read the message in English (or whatever their chosen language is) and see what was said or written in another language. The conversation can include 100 participants for up to 4 hours.
The traditional way of enforcing learning has been through flashcards, diagrams, study guides, and practice tests. Quizlet brings that online and offers quizzes that have helped numerous students prepare for homework and exams. Included in their language study sets are Spanish, French, and German. This tool is especially friendly for vocabulary study and voice recording. There are more topics to explore and choose from aside from language. Quizlet is a great resource to suggest to your students (or even for you to pick out an already-existing quiz to share with them).
If your school doesn’t have a paid subscription for any learning management system (LMS), you can always register your own Google Classroom. Google Classroom gives you the platform for posting learning materials, quizzes, and resources that easily integrate with everything Google and is fit for learners across all levels. If you want to explore what you can do with Classroom, you can check out this video by Pocketful of Primary.
Online teaching would inevitably include lesson videos, and lesson videos will always have the risk of being neglected and forgotten by your online learners. The solution? Track their progress and encourage them to finish watching the videos by locking them to your video page! At least this is the solution given to teachers only by Edpuzzle, an online platform where you could set up classes, upload videos, and provide check-up quizzes along the way. A unique feature of Edpuzzle is its ability to lock video viewers to the current tab they’re in and to add check-up quizzes as they go along your lesson video. Edpuzzle also allows you to see students’ progress by giving you a summary progress bar for your classes. While it can be used across grade levels, Edpuzzle might best fit middle school to high school learners who have already fostered a sense of independence in learning and would need little teacher guidance.
The British Council offers a lot of game-based activities for ‘ESL learners’ made for various levels. Board and card games that help students communicate in English while having fun with their classmates are available for free on the website. The majority of the games are suitable for younger learners, but the materials are easily adaptable for more advanced language lessons.
We educators have a game in mind with specific names, vocabulary, or phrases on our list. An easy way to make one is through Flippity, a website that conveniently turns contents from our Google Spreadsheets into a game. The site offers various games to choose from, such as classic flashcards, crossword puzzles, word searches, a matching game, or hangman. In addition to that, you can make quizzes where certificates are awarded in the end. It’s no surprise why teachers continue to love and suggest this resource.
If you’d like to do away with excel files and go straight to game-creation from your content, Wordwall may do that for you. In just a few minutes, one may create fully interactive activities. The students may access the designed activities through interactives that may be played on any web-enabled device or printables on paper or in .pdf format. They also have the feature of creating different game templates with the same content to reinforce a lesson. Themes are also available and customisable, which is a bonus.
These activities can be given as student assignments, shared with other teachers, the public, or kept private, while the results generated are system collected and tracked.
Fun activities such as Whack-a-mole, which are great for younger children in kindergarten, are available, while more well-known traditional games are also available.
Another game-based learning platform is Kahoot! Inside are pre-made games you can choose from, while you may also make your games, which they call “Kahoots” – best played in a group setting. They promote student-paced learning or independent study, which is great for distance and blended learning. Other teachers may also encourage the students to improve their leadership skills by making their games relevant to the lessons and sharing them with their classmates. The variety of already available content they have is massive, including collaborations from other organizations or companies like Disney, Khan Academy, Angry Birds, Time Magazine, National Geographic, Nature Lab, Drops, and many more.
Another classroom management resource is Classin. They’ve built this platform to help make better online experiences to result in better learning outcomes. The resource integrates online tools and services, such as putting live classes, group chats, cloud sharing, and assignments into one platform. A review from their site says: “The majority of the teachers found ClassIn to be the most effective at recreating the classroom experience and enhancing interaction between teachers and students.” Features in the platform include online homework correction, class discipline control, student attendance tracking, among many other tools. ClassIn has been well trusted by many organisations, including universities prone to high traffic (may even manage up to 600,000 students based on a testimonial on their site).
“Great teachers spend less time marking and more time teaching” is the tagline of YACAPACA. With the advantage of advanced technology today, teachers have saved more time checking student papers, which used to take up so much time. Again, this website is operated by teachers to create automated assessments for students. This tool is entirely web-based; thus, any computing device (desktop, laptop, tablet, mobile phone) can run this.
Nearpod has premade courses partnered with educators’ favourite brands, including Quill, BBC, and Remind. You can use them as is or even customise them to fit the unique needs of your students. A great feature they have is uploading PowerPoints, Google Slides, and videos and then upgrading them with more interactive activities. You can start using Nearpod for free.
Here’s a comprehensive step-by-step list of how Nearpod works: Link.
Knowing what your students know and don’t know is also made easy by Naiku, meaning “teacher” in Lao. Personal assessment of each student becomes less of a challenge. Fast feedback is provided to students, while they may keep track of their confidence levels in answering questions and journal on what they do or don’t get right (or understand). This encourages student ownership and sharpens their thinking. The good thing about Naiku is that it is highly affordable and easy to adopt; hence it’s excellent for small schools and large districts alike. This platform may be accessed through any web-enabled device. It is teacher-friendly and student-centric.
Grammar and language technicalities are things that are always vital to language learning simply because they are the base upon which one builds further knowledge and communication skills in the target language. Grammarly is a nifty tool to have one’s grammar and sentence structure checked and revised. It has a Google Chrome extension and desktop and mobile apps, making it relatively easy to integrate with all of your devices. Grammarly is not only helpful for checking your grammar when preparing lessons, but it’s also invaluable when checking essays and other written activities across all levels.
vocabulary.com is a vocabulary development website where you and your students can sign up and create a learning space. The website features different questioning strategies that help with the memorisation of a word’s definition. A friendly explanation of what the word means is also given before playing in vocabulary.com, with a virtual version of the flashcards game for learners across levels.
BrainPOP is a popular educational resource that also offers a curriculum with a great emphasis on Grammar and Vocabulary at ‘BrainPOP ELL.’. It includes: movies, quizzes, and games to make learning more interactive, engaging, and motivating. Lessons available are for any age, whether in beginner, intermediate, or advanced level, but is most appropriate for upper-elementary and middle schools. However, all may benefit and find the helpful tool. To help an educator get started with BrainPOP, one may take a placement test found on their website. The program is not only well integrated with games and lessons but well-organized to help maintain attention. Thus, it is conducive as a tool to both educators and students alike.
Grammar improves writing. A fast and easy way to assess and improve your students’ sentence constructions is through Quill. Unlike the traditional pen and paper way of checking we once had, feedback is fast with Quill. Thus, the students can quickly self-diagnose and correct lapses in their writing and understanding of grammar concepts. This tool is a game-changer for the advancement of writing and grammar. The resource is free and available for elementary, middle, or high school levels.
The effectiveness of our students’ comprehension comes from the relativity of words they learn. Lexile Word Lists helps teachers know what vocabulary is most appropriate to their students or class according to their grade level. They provide a comprehensive, by-level word list tailored according to the academic concepts they are likely to encounter.
Others have recognised that adding words to their vocabulary can get tiresome through mere memorising. Students may have a distaste or lower motivation for learning complex language definitions which they may not necessarily understand. Infercabulary has addressed that concern by adopting a new approach to vocabulary instruction using semantic reasoning. Multiple images are used to illustrate a word that may be used in different contexts. The reviews on this platform are excellent. The tool is even said to have elicited higher-level thinking and improved motivation in student vocabulary-building. It’s also included in Google for Education as their build partner.
One of the main concerns teachers have is enabling their students to overcome the challenge of reading and writing alongside listening and speaking. A great way to help students hone their skills in these categories is to provide supplemental reading passages. CommonLit has garnered positive testimonials from teachers, directors, and students for their valuable resources and tracking system with stop and jot questions. The organisation advocates teachers using specific best practices for instruction, so; for that reason, their resources are flexible, research-based, and practical. The learning platform has been used in over 75,000 schools. CommonLit is mindful of students in the Title I category and students in Grade 3-12 level.
Another well-recommended resource by teachers to help students have better confidence in reading and writing is Read&Write, available for all devices using Google Chrome, Windows, or Mac. Its features include text-to-speech with natural voices to choose from, word prediction to develop writing skills, picture dictionaries to understand unfamiliar words, audio maker, and study highlighters. The variety of support for students is great for language learners (both ELL and ESL) for even those with learning difficulties such as dyslexia or visual impairments. The only free feature of Read&Write is Text-to-speech; however, K-12 teachers get a free premium subscription to this toolkit.
Great up-to-date, non-fiction yet high-interest, and in-depth articles accompanied by images and questions may be found in Newsela. Currently, the entire site is accessible in support of educators and students during the COVID-19 pandemic. The availability of texts offered is varied for five different Lexile levels. The topic diversity of resources found here would be a great supplement to the educational curriculum one is adapting; moreover, there are student assessment tools in the form of quizzes, annotations, or writing prompts for every article. Many teachers truly love Newsela.
Another similar platform for non-fiction reading is News-O-Matic (for K-8 classroom)
Project Gutenberg is a public domain resource that offers thousands and thousands of books, free for download. It gives you a wide array of English literary classics, a great way to start improving your vocabulary. Because many of these books are in the classics, they are most suitable for middle school to high school learners. * Please note there may be some copyright restrictions in different countries as their website states not all books have free copyright in each country.
Free Online Graded Readers offers one of the most extensive online libraries of graded e-books. Here, you can find plenty of ebooks in different digital formats: epub, fb2, Mobi, RTF, txt, as well as audiobooks in mp3 format. You can download the ebook of your choice, and if you sign up, you can read it online for free.
Another reading resource for online books, best for elementary students, is Unite for Literacy. Students also have the option to listen to the recorded reading of the book in both English and a different language. Their library includes topics on family, friends, health, math, plants and food, technology, zoos, aquariums, animals, people, community, and many more.
A great resource that provides free audiobooks and e-books is Epic, which has amassed several awards, such as Mom’s Choice Award 2014, Teacher’s Choice Award 2020, and Parent’s Choice Gold Award 2019, Best Educational App for Kids by Parents, and many more. Educators get more features for free and are enabled to have in-class integration, class rosters, assignment tracking and more. This digital library is excellent for kids in grades six and under. If you teach children in that age group, you wouldn’t want to miss out on using this resource.
Barriers to educational equity such as inadequate funding, access to the internet, lack of parental hands-on support, and demographic location shifting have been taken into consideration by Footsteps2brilliance. It is a literacy platform that hopes to build a “Model Innovation City”, a solution that allows one to scale educational apps to an entire city cost-effectively. The platform uses bilingual (English and Spanish) tools tapping into visual, tactile, and auditory techniques. It makes learning fun and exciting for young children from pre-kindergarten to 3rd grade. It’s great because it takes advantage of using technology made readily accessible with the devices parents already have.
While for the Spanish learners in Grades 3 through 8, trans-adapted lessons in Waggle may encourage their literature reading. Not only will English language arts and multilingual learners benefit from this, but also Maths learners. Students as young as kindergarten may already start using this platform as well. The techniques adopted are research-backed and use proven approaches to student growth. Their persistence is rewarded. This adds to the motivation of the students aside from the platform’s utilisation of gamification and personalisation. A self-guided demo is available for interested educators to see how this fits in their curriculum for BMLs (EAL, ELL, ESL, students).
Since now, we have been on our fingers typing more than we’ve ever had in our lifetime. You or your students may want to speed things up by upgrading your typing skills. TypingClub is an excellent Google for Education Partner that addresses this need. Besides English, they even have other language series in Spanish, French, and German. Their interface is seamless, and so are their explanations.
Another way to assess your BMLs is through their conversations. A way to encourage them to start conversations is through Flipgrid. Community engagement and interaction may also be encouraged through this means as colleagues may view each others’ shared videos. The interface is simple, and best of all, free.
Being able to correctly pronounce words in English may boost our BMLs’ confidence in speaking. Listening comprehension may be improved through Languabooks. Listening to audio from native professional narrators with visualisation helps our students understand native speakers to learn better pronunciation and comprehension. Also, Languabooks provides visual feedback to a student regarding their speaking ability. Feedback is fast and appropriate. Thus, learning is accelerated. This tool incorporates the best speech recognition software available, which was originally developed for the US Military. It helps learners speak so they will be understood. It is available for kids and adult English learners as well.
A unique way to encourage students to communicate with your or their other peers is through Voxer. It is a walkie-talkie (push-to-talk) mobile app with live audio messaging. The app is available on iPhone, Android, or on the web. Features include secure real-time communication, voice-to-text transcription, and chats with up to 500 individuals or team contacts.
“Teachers may give good feedback, but sometimes students can give even more targeted and better feedback because they’re in the middle of the process as well.” – Jennifer Boyle
The great thing about Peergrade is that students can provide feedback to each other. This helps students to self-assess how to improve the quality of their own assignments through their peers’ insights which encourages students to sharpen thinking. It’s great for assignments that require writing, proofreading, and editing. The activity of giving feedback to each other makes learning together more memorable and dynamic for both the receiver and giver. Also, this saves educators a great deal of time.
Asynchronous video communication has been the primary mode of sharing our ideas in this generation. Especially with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, this has been truer than ever before. Programs have been built and designed by teams and programme developers to support educators, workers, and individuals to help convey their ideas and discourse efficiently, fast, free, and accessible.
Another simple way to record, edit, and share videos would be through Screencastify, which is the acclaimed #1 screen recorder for Chrome. It is a free extension to be added to one’s Google chrome browser to record at ease. One review even writes how it is the best flip class tool she has seen in her life. Sharing videos on Google Drive or Youtube is easy with this extension, and that’s why many people love it for its convenience, practicality, simplicity, and efficiency.
A way to up your Google Slides game is the integration of Peardeck. It helps you create engaging instructional content, “effortlessly”. In the slides, teachers may provide formative assessments and interactive questions to know the status of each student. It helps teachers know who needs more help and those who do grasp the concepts discussed. With a premium subscription, teachers may even do more such as inviting other educators to their dashboard, leave feedback for students, and add audio to slides.
StoryboardThat is also another resource that enables the easy creation of visuals, especially for sequencing, brainstorming and timelines. Integration of scenes, characters, infographics becomes easy since they have well-thought graphics to choose from. These visuals or storyboards may help simplify class lessons. There is also pre-made content designed for 21st-century students- to explore. Through this, visual communication is made even more accessible.
Sometimes, our students may want to enhance their learning by other means other than the primary resources we give them. Khan Academy is an incredibly great non-profit providing free, world-class education. Topics are well explained through videos. In addition, exercises to reinforce their learning are provided at the end of the videos. It has been well trusted by students and teachers in primary/elementary (starting from Grade 1) even up to college-aged.
Since Shakespeare has been widely regarded as the greatest or most influential writer and dramatist in literature history, his works are continually studied year-to-year. The themes within his plays have been timeless. MyShakespeare offers “rich, full-text editions of Shakespeare’s plays” and includes interactive learning tools such as simplification of difficult words, recorded audio, videos, and a scene summary. This comprehensive platform should be a great resource for educators who teach Shakespeare.
Math is a universal language. It remains the same regardless of what culture, race, or educational discipline. Mathigon is a “Textbook of the Future” that provides interactive, visual, and personalised conceptual activities. This is perfect for Grade 6 -12 students as they have many tools to help support them in their understanding of complex concepts and problems. This is especially powerful for BMLs since it makes everything understandable through visuals and vocabulary support.
Another math program available for PreK-8 is ST Math, which helps students understand mathematical concepts regardless of their skill level or language ability. It teaches students by helping them to move from concrete to abstract thinking using the brain’s innate spatial-temporal reasoning ability. The focus is on mastery learning, whereby students move from one level to another. The use of ST Math has been repeatedly shown to double or triple student growth in math proficiency. It has gained numerous awards and recognitions and is proof that this approach is a game-changer for teaching math.
Back in the day, going on a field trip was such an exciting experience to look forward to. Today, with the onset of the pandemic, which includes many restrictions, these kinds of trips may be difficult to impossible. To add to that, if you have students living in various places around the world, shared experiences can be impossible. Museums have always been a great way of immersing people in an experience of culture, history, and art. It’s amazing that we can now take our students to explore the best museums from around the world, virtually, from the comfort of our homes. Virtual Museum includes access to: British Museum in London, Guggenheim Museum in New York, National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., Musée d’Orsay in Paris, National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul, Pergamon Museum in Berlin, Rijksmuseum or Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, Uffizi Gallery in Florence, MASP in São Paulo, and National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.
As a teacher, it’s crucial that we keep our lessons, assessments, and other plans in place. Every teacher almost always has their own note-taking app, and then perhaps a couple of other staple apps along the way (like spreadsheets and word documents) to keep track of everything from lessons to personal matters. The great thing about Notion is that it offers you all these features in one solid platform. Notion is an all-in-one workspace for notes, databases, kanban boards, etc. The best thing? It offers a free personal pro plan if you sign up with your .edu emails.
Canva is a graphic design platform used by many startup businesses to create engaging social media graphics, but it’s also a beneficial tool even for teachers. It offers rich resources for design elements that you can use when making your visual aids. You can also do this by starting from their library of templates for whatever output you might need—from slides to infographic posters and even videos. Canva offers a free-for-life Canva for Education account that gives you pro features and other exclusive content for free if you sign up with your school email.
Whether you fall into the category of “more often than not” or the ‘every once in a while’ category regarding your use of photos and videos, Mixkit is a go-to for stock or royalty-free video clips, music, sound effects, and video templates. The available resources have been well-curated by Envato, a leading company catering for creatives.
(Another stock-free resource for photos: Unsplash)
As teachers, we’re always called to up our game, and we’re constantly challenged to come up with new strategies and approaches to understand and teach our learners better. With the rise of digital learning, it’s only about time that we also start building our pool of online resources that won’t just help our learners but would also help us to enter our classrooms–virtual or not–every day a bit more empowered with knowledge and tools than yesterday.
REGISTER FOR OUR FREE, PRE-RECORDED WEBINAR TRAINING
‘Differentiating for BMLs at Different Stages of English Proficiency’
WEDNESDAY, 25th NOVEMBER, 2020
Get Access to this Webinar for 48 hours (from 7 PM, LONDON, UK TIME)
MOST TEACHERS KNOW THAT ‘DIFFERENTIATING INSTRUCTION’ IS NECESSARY FOR HELPING THEIR BMLS ACCESS THE CURRICULUM BUT MANY STRUGGLE WITH EFFECTIVE & EFFICIENT IMPLEMENTATION
In this focused training, we help you get into the ‘mindset’ of differentiation – why you need to do it and how to implement it from a practical perspective. We’ll share the most important considerations to help you work smarter and with greater impact.
Working with diverse classrooms means that ‘differentiation’ has to be an essential approach at the heart of all your teaching and learning practises. This is actually one of the most challenging aspects of teaching since there are many ‘moving parts’ to consider. Ensuring that students experience the right level of challenge is important; and to do that we must understand our BMLs’ English proficiency levels. As a BML moves from ‘beginner’ to more advanced levels of proficiency, their needs for differentiation will change. This webinar will help you understand all these considerations and will give you practical tips and key takeaways, no matter what age or subject you teach!
This webinar is suitable for school administrators, teachers and teaching assistants. We’ll be discussing learning issues in the context of different age groups and levels.
JOIN AUTHORS, CONSULTANTS AND LEARNING SPECIALISTS, ALISON SCHOFIELD AND FRANCESCA MCGEARY AS THEY GIVE YOU REAL-LIFE STRATEGIES AND NEW UNDERSTANDINGS ABOUT DIFFERENTIATED INSTRUCTION AND THE BML POPULATION. GET READY TO ADD NEW STRATEGIES TO YOUR TEACHING TOOLKIT!
Sign-up Now to Gain Access to this Webinar on Wednesday, 25th November, 2020!
WHAT ELSE YOU CAN EXPECT TO LEARN IN THIS TRAINING:
What is ‘differentiation’? When do we need to implement it?
Differentiating for BMLs has specific considerations related to their English proficiency levels
Understand how you can make your lessons accessible by allowing multiple entry points into the learning
Learn how to ‘work smarter, not harder’ when it comes to differentiating for BMLs of different levels
Understand key learning principles and theories that underpin ‘differentiated instruction’ and why it’s valuable to dedicate professional learning to this area
See some practical tips, ideas and strategies for differentiating content with BMLs at different levels, grades/year-groups and English proficiency levels
Find out how to easily link assessment approaches to your differentiated instruction
There are so many reasons why you should shift to a ‘multilingual mindset’ with your bilingual and multilingual learners (BMLs, ESL, ELLs). Acknowledging that your learners bring rich linguistic and cultural experiences into the English classroom can really help them to be seen and valued.
Using asset-based language such as: ‘bilingual and multilingual learners’ or simply, ‘multilingual,’ can have a powerful impact in the way you view your learners.
REGISTER FOR OUR FREE, PRE-RECORDED WEBINAR TRAINING
‘The Literacy Needs of Bilingual and Multilingual Learners’
WEDNESDAY, 28th OCTOBER, 2020
Get Access to this Webinar for 48 hours (from 7 PM, LONDON, UK TIME)
LITERACY IS IMPORTANT FOR SO MANY LIFE-SKILLS AND EVERY SINGLE SUBJECT IN SCHOOL. DID YOU KNOW THERE ARE SPECIFIC FACTORS THAT CAN MAKE IT MORE CHALLENGING FOR YOUR BMLS TO MAKE GOOD, CONSISTENT PROGRESS IN THEIR LITERACY DEVELOPMENT?
In this session, we’ll unravel key aspects of research and practise that are relevant to BMLs (aka ESL, ELL students) and their ability to thrive academically. We’ll dive deep, focusing on real action points that you can implement within your school and classroom, immediately.
In most cases, educators are not trained to understand the intricacies of literacy development with our BML population. Too often, focused literacy instruction is stopped after students have mastered ‘learning to read.’ However, as they shift to ‘reading to learn,’ they need more exposure, support and guidance than ever before. Since most BMLs tend to be ‘behind’ in their reading and writing skills as compared to their grade/year-level expectations; this means they need a special emphasis on literacy at each and every stage-even into secondary. This session will give you more insights about how you can make changes that will have your BMLs making leaps and bounds in their literacy progress.
This webinar is suitable for school administrators, teachers and teaching assistants. We’ll be discussing learning issues in the context of different age groups and levels.
JOIN AUTHORS, CONSULTANTS AND LEARNING SPECIALISTS, ALISON SCHOFIELD AND FRANCESCA MCGEARY AS THEY GIVE YOU REAL-LIFE STRATEGIES AND NEW UNDERSTANDINGS ABOUT LITERACY DEVELOPMENT AND THE BML POPULATION. GET READY TO ADD NEW STRATEGIES TO YOUR TEACHING TOOLKIT!
Sign-up Now to Gain Access to this Webinar on Wednesday, 28th October, 2020!
WHAT ELSE YOU CAN EXPECT TO LEARN IN THIS TRAINING:
Find out why BMLs’ literacy needs are different to native speakers’
Get to know more about the development of literacy and why BMLs can struggle at specific stages
Understand why acceleration is necessary for BMLs to make enough progress each academic year
Find out why some students have difficulties with comprehension and what you can do about it
Learn where to put your energy and focus for maximum impact
Discover why ‘instructional levels’ can make or break a student’s progress in reading
Learn the key strategies that can ‘change the game’ for your BMLs and their literacy development
Understand why literacy MUST be a focus across every age group
REGISTER FOR OUR FREE, PRE-RECORDED WEBINAR TRAINING
‘Getting to the Bottom of your BMLs’ Barriers:
What to do if you Suspect your BML has Learning Issues’
WEDNESDAY, 30 SEPTEMBER, 2020
Get Access to this Webinar for 24 hours, from 12 PM (LONDON, UK TIME)
YOU KNOW YOUR BMLS ARE STILL ACQUIRING ENGLISH, SO STRUGGLE CAN BE NORMAL; BUT WHAT IF IT’S A SIGN OF SOMETHING MORE? WHAT SHOULD YOU KNOW AND WHAT SHOULD YOU DO IF YOU THINK A BML HAS A LEARNING ISSUE?
This can be a tricky situation! On one hand you know these learners are just as likely to experience a special educational need as any other student; yet, you also understand that BMLs are found to be over-represented in special education settings. What can you do to support your learner and prevent unnecessary labelling or diagnosis of a learning disorder?
If you’d like more confidence in understanding the complexity of this situation with very clear action steps, this training is for you! Whether you’re thinking about one particular student in your classroom or considering building stronger policies for your school, you’ll gain actionable takeaways.
This webinar is suitable for school administrators, teachers and teaching assistants. We’ll be discussing learning issues in the context of different age groups and levels.
JOIN AUTHOR, CONSULTANT AND LEARNING SPECIALIST, ALISON SCHOFIELD, AS SHE LEADS YOU THROUGH A HIGHLY-PRACTICAL TRAINING. DESIGNED TO HELP YOU GAIN GREATER EXPERTISE WITH YOUR BMLS, SHE’LL NOT ONLY GIVE YOU NEW WAYS OF UNDERSTANDING THIS COMPLEX ISSUE, SHE AIMS TO GIVE YOU A SOLID PLAN AND STRATEGY GOING FORWARD.
Sign-up Now to Gain Access to this Webinar on Wednesday, 30th September, 2020!
WHAT ELSE YOU CAN EXPECT TO LEARN IN THIS TRAINING:
You’ll understand WHY this information is so critical for every educator to grasp
Learn about the range of ‘typical’ language acquisition in BMLs and areas they can expect to struggle across different stages
Understand how BMLs can display a range of observable behaviours that can mimic a learning disorder
Learn about cultural bias and other key testing considerations ; understand why standardised tests shouldn’t be your first step
Find out how you can use ‘dynamic assessment’ and other types of evaluation to gain deeper insights
Get a practical plan of action that you can implement with your learner or even include within your school policies; this includes dynamic assessment
This session is dedicated to one of the most popular questions teachers have about serving their BMLs: can these students be supported within the special educational needs or learning support department? Our Co-Founders, Francesca McGeary and Alison Schofield, clarify this issue and offer 3 important considerations for schools and educators:
It’s not a good idea unless one essential condition is met
This is an ethical and even legal issue
A suggestion is offered for schools to find a model of service that is well-established and sound
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 #5 out of 5. You can find the others in previous posts.
If you really want to make excellent use of time and minimise heavy day-to-day planning, projects are definitely the way to go. They’re a value-packed way to engage and motivate students but they also enable independence and curiosity.
Typically, projects pair hands-on learning experiences with conceptual knowledge in order to produce a culminating task or ‘product’. Because of this, they offer a naturally-authentic ‘curriculum,’ rich with a variety of language experiences. This makes them ideal for fostering BMLs’ language skills. Projects can be designed as short or long as you want to make them. Why they’re particularly appealing during this pandemic is that students can have regular check-ins with you to stay on-track; but they can carry out the self-study components from home. This helps them take ownership and responsibility for their learning but in a way that’s manageable . The key is to offer regular check-ins with students to ensure they’re staying on-track and getting the right feedback.
LEARNING COMPONENTS & MAINTAINING EVIDENCE OF LEARNING
There’s usually several tasks students complete before coming to the final learning product. These might include: research, experiments, interviews and data-collection, for example. Scaffolding students’ progress with a graphic organizer or a task checklist to help them stay organized is critical to their success. Other ways students can track their learning journey includes: keeping a photo record of the tasks they’ve done, maintaining a learning journal and recording websites they’ve visited. Journals can show student brainstorms, summaries of research, diagrams and results of experiments, etc. These are all authentic artefacts of students’ learning. Going through these items with students can help them to self-assess, get clear feedback and plan ‘next-steps’. Teachers can also use this opportunity to observe students’ discrete skills like writing, planning or working independently. This gives a clearer picture as to what students may need more guidance around.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT TOPIC
Choosing the right topic to explore is critical. It should be something relevant and meaningful for all students. It should offer multiple entry points for a variety of learners and could even provide a real-world context like the Sustainable Development Goals, for example. The trick is to get this balance right for the age of the learners, the different language and ability levels as well as the resources students have available.
Project-based learning is an authentic way of exploring concepts but it can even be more relevant during these unpredictable times. This approach removes the teacher as the ‘sage-on-the-stage’ and empowers learners to be more active in their learning processes. For BMLs, this can provide wonderful learning opportunities to share topics related to their cultures and languages but you’ll need to remember that some BMLs may not be used to self-directed learning. Especially if you’re working with newcomers or children who’ve changed school systems, they can find it hard to transition to a more autonomous learning model. If the child is used to traditional or ‘rote learning’ as a basis for their education, they’ll likely need more support to understand and manage their projects. In this case, you’ll need to ease them in gently and break down the project components into specific activities that match their comfort levels. This will still allow them to tackle a reasonable level of challenge while developing awareness of a different way of working and learning.
While most teachers use some form of project-based learning within their teaching, I would encourage them to make projects a main focus now, more than ever. Projects can stimulate curiosity and interest and these are keys to helping students experience more joy and pleasure in learning.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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: email@example.com
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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:
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: email@example.com
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: firstname.lastname@example.org
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 aboutour courses.
In our very first Roundtable Interview, Francesca McGeary speaks to Angela Hollington, Primary Principal from CIS SIngapore and Emilijia Stojanovski, Literacy Specialist Teacher.
She learns how CIS’ recent whole-school initiative to strengthen BMLs’ literacy has led to outstanding results. First, they have appointed Emilija as their new Literacy Specialist teacher this year. She has gone on to focus on supporting and training colleagues who’ve been dedicated in carrying out the new plans. They’ve now tracked and analysed data for their Grade 1 students at the time of the interview and so happy with the first round of results.
At the Centre for Educators of BMLs, we help schools understand how to make actionable changes that help their BMLs thrive. We teach administrators and educators of all kinds how to get real results with their students and accelerate their progress in literacy and vocabulary – key indicators of school success. Click ‘play’ to listen to the Roundtable…
For bilingual and multilingual learners (BMLs), homework can be a major stressor. Many have a great deal of anxiety during the school day and having to bring additional schoolwork home can take away from their ‘rest and recharge’ time. As well, homework that’s assigned by teachers may take BMLs double the time to complete. You can imagine these factors don’t create optimal conditions to support student learning. That’s why teachers need to carefully consider whether the benefits of giving homework assignments out-weigh the costs for their BMLs.
If we imagine what the learning process is like for many BMLs, we can get a better look at the issue from their perspective:
BMLs frequently have an additional step to decipher the language of the concept and/or instructions. This is where they need to have more scaffolding and support to help them work independently. If the homework task is not fully comprehensible, the student will require help from their parents-who may also have difficulties understanding the task in English. This can add a great deal more time to the homework task. I’ve had parents tell me it’s normal for them to spend up to one hour on an assignment that should’ve taken 10 or 15 minutes. Sometimes parents and students are reluctant to tell the teacher that it takes this long to complete the homework so you may not even be aware that it was such a struggle. If the student has multiple assignments from different subjects, then homework can become even more overwhelming.
What’s a Teacher to do?
According to research on homework, there is little value in terms of academic achievement on primary-aged learners as compared to middle and high school students (Cooper, 1989a). Considering this fact, teachers should first decide on the value of the homework they will assign. They should be able to justify this value in terms of the impact they’re likely to see on the students in regards to specific skills/achievement levels. They might then decide to:
Assign work that is at an ‘easy’ (independent) level of difficulty so that students can build up their independent work habits and study skills.
Send work that is already partially-completed by students and which has already been clearly explained and understood in class. This means the student will know exactly how to carry out the learning activity on their own once at home.
With older students, there are often heavier workloads in terms of assignments and projects in addition to studying for tests and exams. Teachers should ensure BMLs have understood what to do and that they have access to resources that can help them complete the learning (e.g. translation tools, graphic organizers, homework planner, etc.).
Certainly BMLs at higher levels of English proficiency will be able to handle the homework load more independently but again, the teacher should still consider the purpose and whether the assignments have real value. Homework should be equitable for all students so an assignment that takes native English speakers 15 minutes to complete should take a similar amount of time for BMLs. There is no problem with a teacher differentiating homework-especially in terms of number of questions/items to complete or number of paragraphs to write, for example. Sometimes reducing the amount of work is all it takes to move the level of difficulty from ‘frustration level’ to an ‘instructional’ or do-able level.
Cooper, H. (1989a). Homework.White Plains, NY: Longman.
Schofield, A. & McGeary, F. (2016, p.183). Bilingual & Multilingual Learners from the Inside-Out: Elevating Expertise in Classrooms and Beyond. Self-published, CreateSpace.
One of the most common mistakes that I see being made with BMLs is that they are put into lower-ability groups or given ‘easy’ work because they struggle to access learning content.
While it might seem logical to give BMLs easier work that they can better understand, this is actually the wrong approach. Let me explain a little more…
Research suggests that BMLs (like all students) require an ‘enriched’ learning environment which stimulates their cognitive development and, at the same time, enables the development of their language acquisition (Thomas & Collier, 1997). This equates to challenging or rigorous learning opportunities where BMLs are able to scaffold their language-learning. Many BMLs are high academic achievers in their home country, but when they come to their new English school, things are very different because they can’t access the language of learning. As a result, many students are given more simplistic work or put into lower-ability groupings. I once worked with a BML who was an outstanding mathematics student and he was put into the lowest-ability group in his Year 6 class. Every day he was angry and resentful. This greatly affected his self-esteem and attitude towards school and learning. He became disengaged and his marks started to reflect this. Since this boy wasn’t challenged academically, his inclusion in the group became a self-fulfilling prophecy because he eventually began to under-perform and was soon identified as an under-achiever by his peers and teachers.
The reality is that many teachers are simply not given adequate training to understand BMLs or support their unique needs. In light of this, I want to share some insights and practical strategies that you can use immediately to help your BMLs get access to the right level of learning while providing an enriching and stimulating environment.
First, it’s important to understand that most BMLs who come to you in this position will have knowledge of their home language and literacy. This means that you can tap into this wonderful resource in order to naturally support their learning in English. Don’t be afraid to empower your BMLs to use their home languages for learning tasks. Let them do research online, allow them to talk to same-language peers and even write their ideas in their own languages. BMLs must not STOP their learning from continuing at a similar rate and pace as they’re previously accustomed to. Then, to build up their English acquisition, you can have them write key points or even words and phrases in English to summarise what they’ve learned. Alternatively, you can have their work translated by a peer, a staff or even a parent who speaks their language if you need to. There is no harm in supporting this strategy and it doesn’t mean students’ English will be jeopardised as a result.
If we look at the image above, we can see students are more reliant on their mother-tongue/home language when they first begin English. They have the full use and potential of their language but then may have very little English proficiency at this stage. Then, as they continue to be immersed in English from year-to-year, they start to use their English language for learning and thinking; thereby having to rely much less on their mother-tongue. In fact, if BMLs actually stop their mother-tongue language over the longer term, English will take over as their dominant language. This is why it’s important to encourage parents of BMLs to continue to maintain their home languages by speaking it at home and even going to external classes to maintain literacy.
Now you now the first (and often easiest) strategy for supporting BMLs to learn content—encouraging them to use their mother-tongue/home languages. Be sure to share this strategy with their parent(s) so they know why their child is spending time learning in their home language and not English. Naturally, this can be confusing to some parents! You can easily assure them that this will not take away from their learning of English, particularly because they are fully immersed in English and English interactions all day.
Strategy number two might be obvious to you: Differentiate the learning. I know this is a buzzword that gets over-used but it’s often not done correctly–so that learners are actually able to access content at their level. The very first thing you need to know in order to differentiate properly is the literacy levels of all your students. Then you’ll know what kinds of texts you can use with different students and this helps you to make decisions about various learning tasks. I know it’s not standard practise to share literacy levels with all teachers who work with students but it really should be. It’s often kept in the English teacher’s files somewhere, but consider this information GOLD for each and every teacher who works with students—from the art teacher to the Science teacher. We suggest having a shared online platform to post student literacy levels for full and immediate teacher access.
The key to successful differentiating is to be sure you’ve targeted learning at the right place for students—this is typically at their ‘instructional level’. The instructional level is the ‘just right’ level where there’s a little challenge but not too much. It gives students some room for growth. If the learning is too difficult, that’s at the ‘frustration level’ and it means students won’t benefit from learning, they’ll need a great deal of support (aka ‘spoon-feeding’) from the adult because it’s just too hard for them to work on their own. At the other end of the spectrum is ‘independent level’ and this refers to learning that’s at the mastery level. It’s easy for students to do on their own and doesn’t offer much in way of challenge. When you’re designing learning tasks, activities or projects, make sure you’re aiming for students’ instructional levels in terms of concept learningbut don’t be afraid to allow BMLs to access learning by using texts that are at the ‘easy/independent’ level. This will help themquickly and easily access background information and gather facts.
The next challenge for teachers is how to differentiate tasks in a work-smart manner so you don’t kill yourself? Well, that’s easy-enough. Just think about the learning as a funnel. You create all the learning tasks and activities to meet the core learning objectives or goals. For your native English speakers, they can most likely benefit from, and complete, all of these learning tasks largely on their own. On the other hand, for your BMLs, they need some adjusting or ‘tweaking’ to the learning. Now think about moving the concepts down into the funnel—the funnel hole gets narrower so you must only focus on the most critical core components of the learning so they fit into the funnel. Differentiating for BMLs can easily mean narrowing your focus for the unit/lesson. For example, if the central concept of the learning in English is “to understand plot elements through short stories” and your BMLs can’t access the grade/year-level short stories, then just narrow the focus of the lesson to “understanding plot” with one story or one short story that’s pitched right to their level. You have to make sure that you’re not taking any of the core learning away so maintaining focus on ‘plot’ and ‘story’ is essential. In this case, you can have BMLs read a book at their level so they can access the understanding of plot elements on their own. They could even read a book in their home language and analyse plot. Don’t make things too difficult for yourself so you end up designing laborious individual lessons for each student. Stick with the main lesson goals and objectives and then filter it through the proverbial funnel to make it accessible to your BMLs. Take into consideration that BMLs may require much longer to complete tasks if they’re at the frustration level. That’s why everything needs to be on-level and this will eliminate your need to spoon-feed students. You want to see them working as independently as anyone else when they set out to work and you also want them to feel challenged and engaged. This will help them view themselves as competent and able.
One of the worries that teachers often have about differentiating learning for BMLs is that ‘sooner or later they need to do the real work.’ They’re right about that actually. Depending on the BML’s current stage of English acquisition, they will certainly be able to do the ‘real’ work–but often later rather than sooner in many cases. This is because it takes a BML around 2 years to master conversational English but 5-7 years to master academic English. So, in time, with good language exposure and continued understanding and support from teachers who are dedicated and caring, BMLs can and will be more likely to succeed in both their academic English and their academic learning.
Still have questions about your BMLs or differentiating? Feel free to drop me an email (email@example.com) or comment down below and I’d love to help you!
While a large population of bilingual and multilingual learners (BMLs) in schools used to seem like an issue only for inner city schools in capitals like London, New York, Sydney or Toronto, things have changed dramatically. Now, even schools in rural areas are encountering more BMLs arriving and making up a large part of their student body. Even within international schools, a growing number of ‘local’ parents are opting to educate their children in English medium private schools rather than their own national systems. As such, all teachers now need to have the right skill sets to understand the needs of these children and how to help them thrive.
A reality of our time is that school leaders and educators must come to terms with the reality of the changing demographic in the student body. Some schools are still teaching as they have always done, even while the cohort has changed dramatically. Many don’t recognise the urgent need (and benefits) of having fully trained, BML-experienced teachers within their classrooms; and those who do, often struggle to know what to put in place.
However, there are some great schools leading the way in the changes to how they’re supporting BMLs. Administrators are looking for teachers with more BML experience when they hire, they make PD a priority and they ensure that mainstream teachers have the support they need in their classrooms. Great schools are aware that outdated policies and practises need updating in order to reflect their new teaching and learning approaches as well. For instance, the ‘English only’ policy used to be thought of as an appropriate policy to encourage learners’ English language development-helping them assimilate into their new community and integrate faster. We now know that a policy like this actually has negative effects because it devalues the home language and cultures of students. This can have a long-lasting, negative impact. Similarly, focusing on a curriculum which many BMLs cannot relate to, encourages students to look at issues through a ‘dominant lens’ rather than through multiple perspectives and world-views. Some schools are now starting to recognise that they need to adopt new policies and perspectives, going forward.
One of the biggest shifts schools need to make is to encourage students’ home languages as the foundation for learning. This is just as equally, if not more important, than simply having them learn English quickly. Children establish familial relationships through home languages along with a vocabulary base and important cultural knowledge. While many school leaders don’t realise it, they actually play a huge role in determining whether bilingual and multilingual families will maintain their languages or not. If the school gives the ‘English only’ message (directly or indirectly), parents can often switch to English at home, believing this is necessary if their child is to succeed in an English school. They believe that only one language should be prioritised. School heads and principals, like many other educators, often don’t learn the essential knowledge-base about language acquisition and why this is, in fact, a myth.
Another powerful teaching approach that all educators need to implement is making sure their BMLs receive comprehensible input. This means, in practical terms, that the instruction and content need to be made accessible for BMLs to learn and work at instructional and independent levels. This doesn’t have to mean more preparation or work for the teacher. That’s a misconception. It does mean working smarter and thinking more creatively about how to deliver the learning to match students’ varying ability levels. For instance, a complete beginner in English could research the answers to questions that match the learning objectives or goals set by the curriculum but in their home language. Then, depending on their ability level, they could demonstrate what they’ve learnt through performance tasks or group work, still benefiting from English exposure. There are multiple ways of adapting lessons and learning assessments. Teachers simply need access to these strategies. Training and support are often needed to be sure teachers are skilled enough to know how to do this.
With the increasing numbers of BMLs entering English-medium schools, it’s even more important to empower educators and school heads with the right knowledge and expertise. When they start to view bilingualism and multilingualism as huge assets and give students what they need to thrive, they’ll be helping BMLs become successful, positive contributors to a multicultural, multilingual world.
Photo Credit: Canadian International School, Singapore
If you’d like to enrol in our outstanding courses for educators, click HERE to see our course calendar and learn more. We also run whole-school and group courses for teachers as well as principal courses and TA courses.
If you are an educator looking for a high-quality teacher’s conference, the Educational Collaborative for International Education (ECIS) is hosting its Educator’s Conference in Luxembourg on Nov.16-18, 2018. You can visit the website here: www.ecis.org.
Francesca McGeary, our consultant and educator will be speaking at the event, discussing home languages and students’ rights to using their full repertoire of languages for learning and giving key strategies for getting started.
Today there is growing interest in the best use of the school ESL teacher, especially when ESL students (or bilingual and multilingual learners – BMLs) now make up a large proportion of the student body in many English-speaking schools. Teachers and administrators are increasingly focused on creating real impact and this is driving development plans in many schools. Yet how can schools be sure that their model of service is going to equate to better results for students? How can they be sure they implement the best model?
The good news is that we can turn to research to provide information about the approaches that will bring about good impact. I want to share this knowledge-base with you so that you can evaluate whether the approaches you currently use are likely to create impact or, if you’re currently developing a new ESL programme, you can use this information to design your model.
RESEARCH ON ENGLISH ACQUISITION
First of all, let’s look at what the research says about language acquisition. Professor Jim Cummins has coined the terms ‘BICS’ and ‘CALP’ to describe the stages of language proficiency that BMLs go through as they acquire English. ‘BICS’ refers to ‘Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills’ and is essentially the social or conversational language that BMLs acquire initially. This first stage can happen relatively quickly, anywhere between 6 months to 2 years. During this time, learners are picking up a large vocabulary of (mainly) high-frequency words/phrases that are easy to acquire from their immediate environment. At this stage, BMLs may appear as though they have already ‘learned English’ because they can seem ‘fluent’ and might even use the accent of those around them. However, they are by no means close to acquiring the academic language skills that are required for studies. CALP, or Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency is the second stage that BMLs go through as they advance in their English acquisition. At this stage, they are growing their academic language and are learning to apply this through more advanced discussions, reading and writing. This stage can take between 5-7 (or even up to 10) years to acquire, especially because of the vocabulary load needed for communicating at this level. Students working at this stage must be able to use mature or advanced language in order to communicate a range of higher-order concepts and thoughts. This phase is characterised by the acquisition and use of mid and low-frequency vocabulary words (see below image for examples). At the BICS level, high-frequency words can represent around 2,000 or 3,000 words but at the CALP level, the number of words students need to learn are over 6,000. Considering that all learners acquire roughly 1,000 words per year, this represents many years of vocabulary learning! Have a look at the graphic below to see a conceptualisation of this:
You can imagine what this means for your BMLs, many of whom come to you brand new to English or in the early stages of acquisition. It can seem like a journey of a thousand miles for students, their parents and teachers alike. Language acquisition is a long-term process as you’ve already seen but you can help students view their progress as incremental; like rungs on a ladder. With growth, they move closer to the top, one rung at-a-time. In order to support BMLs to make good progress at every stage, it’s important to invest in the approaches that are recognised to bring about real impact. These approaches will empower students to not only access rigorous learning but to maintain one of their greatest assets-their home languages.
4 ESSENTIAL COMPONENTS FOR DESIGNING A SUCCESSFUL ESL MODEL
Below is a description of high-impact elements to include within your model. These incorporate the understandings of English acquisition and make use of approaches that enable access to the curriculum. Keep in mind that it’s ideal to differentiate learning to enable BMLs to participate at their ‘instructional levels’ rather than need to ‘help’ students digest lessons and information that is well-beyond their level of accessibility. Encouraging BMLs to work as independently as possible with the learning is key.
BMLs should not be ‘exited’ from supports after a set timeframe but should instead be listed on a shared register that recognises them as a bilingual or multilingual person who may require additional support at any stage (even at advanced stages of proficiency) since bi/multilingualism can be a lifelong journey. For example, BMLs can often struggle with ‘metaphoric competence’ in upper secondary school and they may benefit from specific instruction to support this complex concept. Not ‘exiting’ students leaves the door open for them; enabling them to access supports even if they might not have required them previously.
Teachers must make literacy a top priority. There should be a daily focus on individual/guided reading for all students, and this should include use of reading materials that match BMLs’ current abilities (e.g. levelled readers for younger learners and graded readers for older students). There should also be opportunity for daily writing practise. This can be accomplished using a response journal (free-writing or subject-specific responses) to allow students to express their ideas at their current levels; but they should also be encouraged to read through their work and self-edit according to their own targets. Conferencing with students goes a long way in supporting and scaffolding their literacy development at every age.
Vocabulary development is a key pillar of learning and comprehension. The old method of giving students vocabulary lists and testing them at the end of the week is not ideal. Rather, introducing students to target words through explicit teaching is the first step. These should especially include: mid-, low-frequency words and high-frequency academic words. Next, modelling and embedding these words within natural learning contexts will increase recognition and develop comprehension. Assessing whether students are actively practising and using the target words in reading, writing and speaking is critical to the vocabulary teaching cycle. Keep in mind students need multiple exposures of words in order to commit them to memory and use them independently. This can mean 12 or more repetitions, so think about how you can build target words into your academic programme.
Use of the mother-tongue/home languages of students should be supported since they not only contribute to the natural ways that students think about and learn information but they’re also an important part of students’ identities. Use of ‘translanguaging’ within the classroom not only helps students’ better understand information but it is also a good way of helping them maintain their home languages. When students have strong home languages, this helps them develop new languages, like English, more easily. Even including home language classes within the school day is an excellent strategy to ensure students continue to develop their home language and literacy.
Understanding all of these important facets, how can you now design your programme? Where can you focus your time and effort in order to include these into BMLs’ academic programmes?
GETTING SPECIFIC ABOUT ESL MODELS USED IN ENGLISH-SPEAKING SCHOOLS
From the image below, you can see that bilingual education models yield the greatest achievement results but in English-speaking schools, an ‘enriched’ approach is best. Incorporating the elements we’ve outlined above will help create your enriched approach and will better enable student access to rigorous academic experiences.
Looking at 3 of the specific models that are frequently used in schools, we can assess how they measure-up in terms of their capacity for enrichment:
PULLOUT MODELS (3rd Place)
As you can see from the graphic, the research shows that traditional pullout ESL programmes did not do very well in supporting student achievement over time. One of the reasons for this is that many ESL classes do not emphasise or focus on enriched experiences. They frequently aim to ‘remediate’ or ‘teach English,’ often doing so without a clear plan that leads to measurable outcomes. Merely scheduling ESL teachers to ‘help’ students acquire English or ‘catch up’ with content work is not preferable. In most situations, work can be differentiated to make it more accessible for BMLs to complete independently or with minimal support from class teachers. While it is possible that short-term, focused support can be given to BMLs in a pullout successfully; it’s preferable to support language and content through the regular academic programme. Pullout models should not be the ‘go to model’. In many schools though, they simply represent what’s always been done or they’re utilised because there is a lack of support for providing differentiated learning for BMLs. These are often reasons why pullouts continue to be used without a clear purpose, goals or evaluation of their success.
If you are an ESL teacher using a pullout model, think about the reasons why this is the best option. Is it the go-to model in your school because: it fits the timetable, has always been done before or is there a lack of time/resources to create strong literacy and/or differentiated experiences for BMLs? Is there an opportunity to develop a more enriching model?
PUSH-IN MODEL (2nd Place)
Many schools apply ‘push-in models’ for BMLs and these can be very impactful. They can make better use of teacher time and resources, especially if ESL teachers are supporting classroom teachers to provide an enriched and rigorous academic programme for BMLs. This can include focus on implementing literacy programmes or project-learning, for example. In this case, the ESL teacher may help to implement differentiated experiences through the learning process or product or may provide additional background information for learning. Co-teaching can take different formats and can allow for a great degree of flexibility, depending on the specific needs of the students, teachers and the academic programme. Impact can be measured by authentic evaluation of student performance and independence with tasks.
If you are an ESL teaching making use of a push-in model, how can you support teachers and BMLs with the most-impactful parts of the academic programme? Are you seeing results with your approach? If not, what might you do differently?
CONSULTANT MODEL (1st Place)
The ideal model for ESL teachers is a consultant model. Let me tell you why. First, it requires a highly-skilled ESL teacher who possesses a strong understanding of the theories and best practises for BMLs. This model makes use of the ‘ESL teacher’ as a specialist who is able to work with multiple approaches, key people and in flexible ways to help BMLs reach their potential. It takes into account the reality that one-size-does-not-fit-all and the understanding that different school contexts might require various initiatives/approaches at different times. In this model, the ESL teacher ensures the right information is gathered about the student body so that BMLs can be correctly identified. They also work with/through teachers to support BMLs’ ongoing monitoring and development-not necessarily with every student but in ways that benefit all students. These teachers must have the freedom to set their own schedules so they’re able to organise key meetings and attend classes as determined by their identified priorities.
In this model, teachers ensure all BMLs are registered as being bilingual or multilingual and they collate information about this in a shared folder or information system. They highlight students’ home languages in addition to reading and writing levels so that all teachers working with BMLs are aware of the information/resources they can use to support them with learning. Ensuring BMLs are correctly identified (and don’t fall through the cracks) is an important element. These ESL teachers are also aware of the ‘hot spots’ (e.g. the ‘fourth grade slump’ or ‘metaphoric competence’) when BMLs may have particular challenges and they know how to implement specific initiatives to ameliorate these. In this model, there is no such thing as a student ‘entering’ or ‘exiting’ support because it’s recognised that BMLs may require support at different stages along their bilingual/multilingual journey and ‘support’ can take on many different forms. In a way, the consultant model takes a ‘birds-eye view’ of all the BMLs in their school (or in their charge) and aims to make impact on a bigger scale, based on what the specific needs of the students and the school are. At all times, they have a focus on enrichment. They may provide services in these different ways:
Working directly with classroom/subject teachers to plan and differentiate for BMLs. This can mean unpacking language and finding entry points into content so that learners are able to access concepts in a way that’s challenging, yet motivating. Two heads are better-than-one and in this model, planning can be a key focus so that multiple needs are met through the academic programme itself.
Understanding and analysing data should be given a high priority. This allows the ESL teacher to monitor the information collected by teachers about learners. This means monitoring the ongoing reading levels of BMLs to ensure they’re progressing and stepping in when needed for additional assessment, recommendations or training. ESL teachers can implement short and long-term initiatives, even working closely with the school administration to target whole-school objectives like literacy, for example. They frequently work in collaboration with key departments and literacy specialists. They use student data to inform the development of specific programmes like a university preparation class for secondary students or even a parent programme to enhance home language literacy, for example. In this case, the ESL teacher should be proficient with assessment data and their work should be focused on achieving the ‘bigger picture’ through targeted initiatives.
They may develop or support home language classes for BMLs. Knowing the value of home language maintenance and literacy for BMLs, ESL teachers may collect information about existing home language classes in their community (sometimes called ‘heritage language’ classes) and ensure the information is passed onto families. They may also deliver parent information sessions about the value of home languages or work with parent groups to develop home language classes for students.
If you are an ESL teacher using a consultant model, how can you make the biggest impact for your students and teachers? How best can you provide enriched programming to BMLs while keeping an eye on the bigger picture?
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Through our work with schools and teachers, we often receive the following questions below:
Where should we direct our resources, especially if we only have one ESL teacher for our whole school?
If you can utilise a consultant model, that would work best and allow you a greater degree of flexibility in terms of the kinds of services you can offer throughout the year (based on the needs of your students and school). Identifying your learners accurately and finding out about their home languages will allow you to tap into the natural resources they already possess. If your ESL teacher can gather information about BMLs’ reading levels and help implement daily literacy programmes, that would be a great use of time and resources. The impact of this can also be easily monitored in terms of student progress. They might also dedicate their time to planning with department heads or teachers and can often make more impact for a greater number of students in this way.
Which is the best ESL curriculum to teach our students English?
Within the school environment as opposed to a foreign language setting, I would highly-recommend your existing academic programme as the basis for teaching English. Embedded with rich academic discussion and supported by a daily literacy programme (with levelled books, vocabulary focus and writing opportunities), this will provide your learners with the ‘enriched’ learning environment they need to grow their language AND cognitive skills. Keep authentic and enriching experiences at the heart of your work with BMLs.
We’ve just received new students and many of them don’t speak English at all. Their teachers want me to take them out to run a special English class for them. What do you suggest?
I can understand the challenge that this presents to teachers, especially if they have a large intake of new students they want to help. Don’t forget that many of them may not know about the best approaches, or may not be familiar with how to help beginning students cope with their new learning environment. In this case, support for both teachers and students is needed. I would start by pairing students up with ‘buddies’ who speak their language if possible so that they can feel supported during this often-difficult transition time. If there’s no student who speaks their language, you can still set them up with a buddy who will help them and take them under their wing. Help teachers understand that BMLs don’t need a structured lesson to ‘learn’ English-the best teacher is all around them. Being in the natural environment will allow them many concrete opportunities to hear and try out new words and phrases. Help them understand that some of the students may not speak right away and this might continue for up to 6 months. During this time, don’t pressure students to speak. They will need hands-on tasks, visual learning experiences and opportunities to demonstrate what they can do. Teachers may benefit from support sessions to help them plan and differentiate for their new BMLs. If you and the teacher feel that some students need more emotional support or monitoring, come up with ways that you can do this. For example, do you have a school counsellor or staff who speaks the student’s language? Are there liaison workers to ease transitions for BMLs? Maybe you can fit in some additional visits to work with small groups of new BMLs in their classrooms at the early stages. There are many things you can do but try to get to the bottom of what the teacher and student really need. Is it really ‘English help’ or could it be support to assist the teacher to plan, differentiate or learn new strategies? Could it be more emotional supports for BMLs to transition into their new school and English environment? It’s always worth taking a close look at, and sometimes even simple things go a long way to help both teachers and students cope.
Do you have any other questions or ideas about designing your ESL model? Or would you like to share your personal approach with us? Feel free to get in touch.
Are you an educator interested in learning more about enriching approaches for BMLs? Our highly-recommended, 8-week online course, ‘Bilingual and Multilingual Learners from the Inside-Out’ will teach you the theories, the best practises and give you over 50 new strategies to use with your BMLs. Learn more about it here.
Collier, V. & Thomas, W. (1989). How quickly can immigrants become proficient in school English? Journal of Educational Issues of Minority Students, 5, 26-38.
Cummins, J. (1979). Cognitive/academic language proficiency, linguistic interdependence, the optimum age question and some other matters. Working papers on Bilingualism, No. 19, 121-129.
Cummins, J. (1981a). The role of primary language in promoting educational success for language minority students. In California State Department of Education (Ed.), Schooling and Language Minority Students: A Theoretical Framework. Los Angeles: Evaluation, Dissemination and Assessment Center California State University.
Nation, I.S.P. & Meara, P. (2010). Vocabulary. In N. Schmitt (ed.). An Introduction to Applied Linguistics. Edward Arnold. Second edition. pp. 34-52.
Nation, I. (2001). Learning vocabulary in another language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Schofield, A. & McGeary, F. (2016). Bilingual and multilingual learners from the inside-out: Elevating expertise in classrooms and beyond. Charleston: CreateSpace.
Thomas, W. P., Collier, V.P. & Center for Research on Education, Diversity & Excellence (2002). A national study of school effectiveness for language minority students’ long-term academic achievement. Washington, DC: Center for Research on Education, Diversity & Excellence.
As many of us know, being bilingual or multilingual has numerous advantages. Enhanced cognitive functions and delayed onset of dementia are just a few of the neurological benefits. Educationally, students who speak more than one language have a greater ability to differentiate between phonemic sounds. They also have enriched worldviews that allow them to take into account broader perspectives. These super-abilities make a good case for elevating the status of bilingual and multilingual learners (BMLs), who so often are viewed from a deficit-perspective because of their developing English language proficiency. In almost all English-medium schools and classrooms around the world, bilingual and multilingual learners are often referred to as ‘English Language Learners’ or ‘Limited English Proficient’ and other similar labels. These very clearly fail to recognise the enriched experience that our BMLs are able to tap into through their bi/multilingualism and even worse, these labels continue to perpetuate the misconception that there is something wrong with BMLs. It’s not surprising that BMLs are over-represented in special education settings – often as a result of misdiagnosed learning and language disorders.
As more educators are finding a growing population of BMLs in their schools and classrooms, there is an urgent need to empower them with understanding and expertise about their students. We believe the very first place to start is with the labels we use to define these learners. Francesca McGeary, our Director, draws connections between her own experiences as a native-English speaker struggling in her French school in Belgium. The stigma that came with ‘not being able to speak the language’ became part of her identity. Yet, as an adult, her multilingualism is now valued and usually admired by others. We need to help teachers, especially those who are monolingual (ie. and not aware of the multilingual experience), understand that students are much more than their English proficiencies and their labels. In fact, many students who struggle with English are highly-competent in their own languages and literacies. This is a reality not often considered by many educators. We need to spread awareness that our BMLs are multidimensional and their bi/multilingualism is a way of being, right now and not just something to work toward for adulthood. We can start by educating teachers about the value of referring to students as ‘bilingual,’ ‘multilingual’ or BMLs. By doing so, we honour their cultural assets instead of viewing them through a lens of ‘lack.’
Professor Gig Luk from the Harvard Graduate School of Education explains that she wants schools to extend their understanding of BMLs:
“If we only look at ELL or English proficient, that’s not a representation of the whole spectrum of bilingualism,” she says. “To embrace bilingualism, rather than simply recognising this phenomenon, we need to consider both the challenges and strengths of children with diverse language backgrounds. We cannot do this by only looking at English proficiency. Other information, such as home language background, will enrich our understanding of bilingual development and learning.” (Source)
We encourage schools and teachers to engage in meaningful discussions about this topic. Would changing your labels for your bilingual/multilingual learners impact how teachers view students? Would it change the way students view themselves? Let us know what you think.
If you’re like most teachers these days, you probably teach a large number of bilingual and multilingual learners (BMLs, ELL/EAL students). Now more than ever, teachers are required to meet the needs of a very diverse student population, many of whom are schooled in English but speak one, two or more languages at home! While so many teachers rise to the challenge very willingly and creatively, most never receive any training to understand the specific needs of BMLs or the strategies that maximise their success.
Back in 2014, we surveyed 10 large international schools around the world to learn more about their practices and resources for BMLs. We found that most schools had extremely high numbers of BMLs—around 80% of the students in the school had varying degrees of English language proficiency.
From our brief investigation, there were several interesting take-aways and trends:
Since most of the schools did not collect enough (or key) information on students’ language backgrounds, a large number of their bilingual or multilingual students were not identified at the time of admission. Since many students appeared to be fluent in English, they slipped through the cracks of identification.
Almost all these schools had a designated department with assigned support teachers (ELL/EAL teachers) but the ratio for these specialist teachers to BMLs was an average of 1 teacher for 154 students.
The common trend in most of these schools was to provide the greatest level of support to BMLs who were formally identified, and who appeared to have the greatest need. For instance, they were students who were ‘beginners’ or who were struggling more than others.
This means that only a small percentage (roughly between 10-25%) of those students were actually receiving active support (e.g. direct monitoring, case management, small group or individualised support). A large majority of BMLs were not able to access additional services.
Types of Support Provided
Typically, the support provided ranged from more intensive sessions (daily periods of pull-out classes for individuals and small groups) to regular support (2-3 periods of support either through pull-out or ‘push-in’) and more monitoring-type classes which encompassed one period of support per week (usually one-to-one or small group). Some teachers indicated that support included: pre-teaching curriculum, reteaching class concepts, focusing on language goals or literacy goals.
In almost all of the schools surveyed, the support teachers expressed feelings of pressure because they didn’t feel they were able to “do enough” to help both BMLs and class teachers.
Summarising, based upon what we found in our target schools, the large majority of BMLs are not getting access to any kind of additional (e.g. enhanced) support. This is understandable, considering the large number of students that an ELL/EAL specialist teacher would be expected to help if he/she had an average of 154 students on their roster or register. We can understood from this glimpse into schools that there needs to be a more ’embedded’ focus of support in schools with large numbers of BMLs. It’s no longer feasible for a very small number of ELL/EAL teachers to meet the support needs of all BMLs in the school. Teachers play a large and important role in the school, as does the administration in targeting the right kinds of supports and initiatives to meet the needs of a large number of BMLs.
Going forward, we aim to develop a larger-scale investigation looking into a greater number of schools but from here we’ve described a school-wide model that can be implemented immediately, filling in gaps and focusing on services for students that meet the particular context of the school and BMLs.
Getting Started with a Solution
If the number of BMLs is increasing, how can the identification and academic support of BMLs be optimised? Ultimately, the best available solution that fits each and every context and setting is simply to work ‘smarter’ with school resources, time and people.
Start with Understanding your Student Body
First, BMLs’ need to be correctly identified and their teachers must be aware of their current levels of English language and literacy proficiency. This then makes it much easier to understand needs and assign services across the school. Right from the administration down to the teachers, having a solid understanding of the needs of your student body can help you plan for impact—across the whole-school priorities and programs to the classroom teaching practices. Since schools all have their own unique contexts and settings, it’s extremely important for them to have done an audit of the languages, cultures and educational backgrounds of their students. This is the main starting point for determining the priorities of the school. For example, schools with high numbers of late-arriving BMLs into secondary can make academic writing a priority and focus for those age groups. They would then need to consider their resources (people, timetabling, etc.) to make this priority happen.
Maximising the Resources of ELL/EAL Teachers
Co-planning between an ELL/EAL teacher and a classroom teacher is one of the top strategies that has a very positive impact on large numbers of BMLs. Both class teacher and support teacher come together to go through the teaching plans for a specified period of time (typically a unit plan). At this time, the support teacher then brings his/her expertise to help the class teacher differentiate the lessons on the plan for the BMLs in that class. The support teacher comes to the planning meeting with all the current information on the BMLs within that class, and they help the teacher come up with ideas that meet the needs of all students. Consideration of issues like materials, scheduling and curriculum objectives are taken into account. They may need to use different texts, compacted assignments or an alternative vocabulary strategy but the impact of two teachers planning together in advance not only brings about more creative solutions but it allows them to carefully consider the current abilities of the BMLs alongside specific goals. Also, when all teachers in the school have had training to understand the most effective and impactful strategies, they can also better share their own expertise in these meetings.
In this video below, watch how Francesca effectively works with teacher Becky in a school in Melbourne, Australia. Together they plan a 4-week unit and differentiate for different levels of bilingual and multilingual learners in the class. During their meeting, they ensure that lessons are comprehensible at students’ varied instructional levels. They also ensure that already-existing, high-level literacy routines are continued and reinforced.
Our 8-Week Educator’s Course, Bilingual and Multilingual Learners from the Inside-Out is a solution that provides all educators with the skills, knowledge and expertise they need to help BMLs thrive in English speaking schools. We offer this course for individual teachers and for whole-school professional development.
Cultural assimilation, language loss and language extinction are some of the threats that can impact cultures, communities and social ecosystems. This is why UNESCO promotes International Mother-Language Day on Feb 21st each year—to build awareness of the importance of language diversity and preservation.
As a teacher, you’re on the frontline of this movement with your bilingual and multilingual learners—many of whom are already experiencing language attrition or language loss as a result of becoming ‘subtractive’ bilinguals over time. With the spread of English education around the world combined with its rising social ‘status,’ many parents are erroneously wooed into the belief that ‘English is best.’ Many simply aren’t aware of the value of their mother-tongue languages.
It’s suggested that around 90% of the worlds languages will be extinct before the end of this century (Eschner, 2017). Mother-Language Day is a day to recognize the value that individual languages contribute to society, progress and humanity. For example, did you know that Inuit people hold little-known information about biodiversity and the environment in the Arctic? Or that the Berbers in North Africa possess thousands of years of knowledge about their desert ecosystem and water management in the Sahara?
It’s clear that languages are reservoirs. They hold and carry important information that can be transmitted between language users from generation to generation. Just imagine what happens to that collective knowledge when a language dies out. Not only does significant scientific and historical information get lost but an entire cultural group—their way of life, their worldview and their impact on humanity—are erased.
Engage your Students in the Spirit of Mother-Language Day with these Activities for all Age-Groups
Open up your activities with a discussion about language and culture. Depending on the age of your students, discuss the significance of International Mother-Language Day, along with the cultural, social and psychological benefits of being bilingual or multilingual. Discuss the importance of maintaining languages and cultures as well as offering facts about the extinction of languages. Help your students realise the significance of their languages!
EARLY YEARS/ KINDERGARTEN
At this early stage, young children are still learning the foundations of their languages and cultures through the world around them. Story books continue to be an important conduit for linguistic and social development. Capitalise on this high-impact activity by getting access to a variety of books in the different languages of your students. Invite parents to your school and have them read to groups of children who speak that particular language. You may want to mix different classes and groups of children together for this activity. Have parents elicit discussions in the mother-tongue language and plan a follow-up activity for students to document their understanding and meaning of the story (e.g. a drawing, art/craft, role-play, etc.).
Have primary students tap into their languages by working in mother-tongue groups to create and illustrate their own storybooks. Have an older child who speaks the same language facilitate a group, providing support when required. Have materials and supplies ready for students’ booklets and make discussion and story-mapping an important pre-writing component. For students without any literacy in their mother-tongue language, you can have them ask their facilitator to write as they dictate or allow them to use phonetic spelling in English. The goal is for students to participate, share ideas and have fun through their mother-tongue languages. Try to keep students moving along despite their individual language levels.
Get students to work in mother-tongue language groups to document interesting aspects of their languages by making posters. Once completed, have them share with the class and post them around the school or classroom. They can:
Compare and contrast aspects of their language with the English language (alphabet, script, sounds, writing direction, shared words, etc.)
Identify and write common sayings or phrases from the language that others might like to learn and have them provide English translations.
Have students explore proverbs from their languages with same-language peers. Proverbs often communicate the values of a culture and can be an interesting form of expression. For example the English proverb, “two wrongs don’t make a right” has quite a deep meaning and can serve as an open-ended prompt for dialogue.
Have students come up with/research several examples of proverbs that are used in their language. Have them explain meanings in detail. Quite often, students from different language backgrounds discover their languages share similar proverbs so be sure to culminate this activity by encouraging students to share their work within the large group. Allow them to display their work creatively.
We’re off to a great start to 2018 with a new location for our institute! We are pleased to announce we are now located in Canterbury, UK. During the move, we’ve had to modify our business name so we are now ‘Centre for Educators of Bilingual and Multilingual Learners Ltd.’
All of our courses and services remain unchanged and we hope our new move will enable greater opportunities and new partnerships.
Feel free to get in touch with us if you have any questions or enquiries.
“Continue to speak your language at home and we will work on improving your child’s English at school.”
This is the mantra that should roll off a teacher’s tongue when speaking to parents of new BMLs joining English schools. Although many of these learners seem to be starting at a disadvantage—with beginning proficiency in English and high academic standards-the mother-tongue or home language can be an excellent support for BMLs.
How the Mother-Tongue Language Supports BMLs’ English Development
The maintenance and ongoing development of BMLs’ mother-tongue or home language(s) is so important to both their academic AND English development. Once BMLs are immersed in an English school environment, they begin to acquire conversational English relatively quickly. Common words and social phrases can be easily grasped by new students since this is the language of social interaction and ‘everyday’ communication.
Yet for academic purposes, it’s necessary that our BMLs ‘catch up’ in their English proficiency as much as possible, especially when academic demands continue to grow more and more challenging. While it can take our BMLs approximately 5-7 years to acquire academic language skills, this can be greatly supported when students already have a strong mother-tongue(s). For example, if a German child enters a year 8 class as a new English speaker, they will have a much easier time coping if they already have strong literacy and German language skills. They’ll be able to read about new concepts through their German language and this can be especially helpful when they aren’t comprehending their English textbooks or lessons. Also, when they’re learning new academic vocabulary, they can link a new English word to the equivalent word in their already-existing German vocabulary. This ‘transfer’ of knowledge and vocabulary from one language to another is what professor Jim Cummins has called the Common Underlying Proficiency or CUP.
His theory highlights the advantage that a bilingual or multilingual learner has when learning a new language like English. These students are in a good position to understand concepts in English if they’ve already learned the equivalent in German. A BML who knows how to read and write in German doesn’t have to relearn how to read or write in English, they just transfer that knowledge base through English.
Implications for English Development and Academic Learning
Depending on the age of our BMLs and whether they’re continuing to acquire their mother-tongue alongside of English can have a big impact on their learning trajectories. While young learners entering English primary school might seem to have all the time in the world to catch up with their native-English peers academically, they’ve actually not fully mastered the complexities of their own language yet. This can create difficulties, especially if parents switch to English once the child begins English school. Vocabulary gaps can have these learners consistently struggling to keep up. This is why it’s so important that families continue to maintain their child’s language(s) while they’re learning English. While older BMLs might have fully mastered their thinking and written expression in their own language(s), they often struggle to cope with increased pressures and academic demands that graduation and external exams present. During this critical time, they can greatly benefit from using their mother-tongue to support complex thinking and learning tasks.
Learning as a BML in an English school is quite different to studying a language in a foreign language centre. Our BMLs have an additional challenge compared to those simply learning a new language. They are required to learn new concepts and skills through English. The important difference here is that this student has to continue their learning even though they are not fully proficient in the language of instruction yet. They need to do two very demanding tasks simultaneously: 1) learn English as a language and 2) master the curriculumcontent. They might need to learn the concepts of physics but they also need to learn the language (vocabulary) of physics in English. This is a challenging goal!
Teachers need to recognise this linguistic and academic burden that our BMLs face when attending English schools and they must be a strong advocate in helping parents understand the value of maintaining their home language(s). When BMLs are young, they need parents to continue to provide them with a strong foundation in their home language, this will support their developing English and will be a great support to their learning. Ultimately, it will also grow their bilingualism/multilingualism.
Both teachers and parents want the very best for their BMLs – that goes without saying. Sharing the right information with parents and explaining why maintaining their home language is beneficial to their child’s English proficiency, cultural identity and academic success will help them understand how to better support them. Continuing to speak their language at home, discussing academic concepts through the home language and even enrolling their child in weekly mother-tongue language classes will have many positive returns.
How does your school support your BMLs’ home languages? We’d love to know!
If “literacy” is the answer, then what’s the question?
It doesn’t matter if you’re a teacher, parent or principal, there’s no doubt you’ll have a good answer to this question…or question to this answer. In fact, there are probably hundreds of excellent questions we could ask that would qualify “literacy” as the right answer.
Here’s just a few:
What has been directly correlated to school success and student achievement over time?
What factor greatly contributes to students’ vocabulary development?
How can we increase student progress across all subject areas?
What could we focus on to build our students’ interest in learning?
What is one area of teacher development that will have a high return on investment?
How can we accelerate our BMLs’ learning, vocabulary and language development?
You see, reading and writing are critical keys to almostall our students’ success when it comes to academic achievement. As students become proficient readers and writers, they continue to gain from the benefits of literacy. This includes increased comprehension, language development and of course, vocabulary. Struggling students on the other hand, experience the reverse effects. While the “rich get richer (in literacy)”, these students actually get “poorer (in literacy).” In other words, their already-weak literacy skills form gaps that continue to widen over the years. We refer to this as the “Matthew Effect.”
So you can see now that “literacy” really is a powerful answer to so many of our complex questions about school success. How our students, especially BMLs, function independently with complex academic tasks is a direct reflection of their vocabulary and their literacy levels. The more schools create powerful literacy priorities and goals, the better their students will ultimately achieve. They’ll not only increase their reading and writing levels, they’ll be able to understand and use more advanced vocabulary. Their independence will also increase and you’ll see students better able to research, break down information and cope with their subject assignments.
How to Make Literacy a Priority Across the School for All Students (Not Only BMLs)
Ensure you know all students’ baseline literacy levels and make that information freely available to all teachers so they can consult the information for supporting and differentiating instruction. Use a shared drive or network.
If you’re interested in actually accelerating your students’ literacy levels, dedicate 20 minutes of independent reading and writing EACH DAY for EACH GRADE/YEAR. Make sure all students have access to books at their individual reading levels and ensure that BMLs are reading books that are at their “easy” or independent level when reading on their own. Consistency over time will yield excellent results.
Be sure that all your classroom and English teachers are trained to support students with literacy strategies. They should know how to help students build personal connections as they read and interpret inferences, for example. Students’ progress should be monitored at least once every 4-6 weeks, not just before report card time. Struggling students need to be supported quickly, so that their gaps can be closed rapidly. Schools need to have a plan of action to accomplish this and they should also have trained staff to do this.
Don’t waste BMLs’ valuable time with low-quality “ESL support.” Far too often, we see BMLs pulled out of class for grammar instruction or for “help” with no clear objective or understanding as to HOW the ESL staff can begin to make an impact. ESL Staff should focus on “enrichment” instead of remediation. They must place a heavy emphasis on literacy and on differentiation of grade/year-level learning. All staff require high-quality training to help them understand BMLs and their specific needs.
Focus on reading and writing DURING school time. Don’t make parents responsible for one of the most important learning skills. They’re not the experts. While students should always be encouraged to read at home, this should really be considered “extra” since many parents simply can’t follow through due to their work commitments or other priorities. Don’t leave your students’ literacy-learning to chance. Always plan and program for quality literacy instruction and practice within the school day.
I was chatting recently with a very experienced primary teacher about teaching bilingual and multilingual learners (BMLs) in the classroom. She had such a wealth of knowledge and experience and it was clear that she was a high-achieving teacher in her school.
One of the interesting things she told me was that we didn’t really need to be too concerned about supporting BMLs since most of what they needed to learn about English would naturally happen while they were outside on the playground with their peers.
Now I know what she meant—natural interactions with other children do offer a great deal of value to BMLs, but I feel that this is often the point at which many good, even outstanding- teachers’ knowledge of BML issues begins and ends.
The reality is that the widespread lack of teacher-training in language acquisition and additional language acquisition has contributed to many myths about “best practices” being perpetuated through our profession. And while the rate of BMLs entering English mainstream classrooms around the world continues to grow exponentially, we really can’t afford NOT to train teachers about BML issues.
In fact, there are many lingering myths that translate to inappropriate practices in schools and classrooms and they can have very detrimental effects on our learners. Here are just a few examples:
BICS AND CALP
The belief that BMLs can learn and become “fluent” in English quickly by playing on the playground with other English speakers.
Truth: There is some element of truth to this belief to be honest. New speakers can learn what is called “Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills” (BICS) fairly quickly. This is essentially conversation skills or social language. This kind of language is learned primarily through interactions with others and can usually be acquired anywhere from 6 months to around 2 years.
This kind of language is largely made up of “high-frequency” vocabulary words and is easily heard and picked up around the playground, in the classroom and out in the community—anywhere that an individual is likely to engage in conversation with others.
Schools on the other hand, demand much more of their students than to simply engage in conversations. School requires them to become proficient in the language of academics and critical thinking. To be able to think, read and write abstractly in a language requires that the individual possess what is called “Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP).” CALP can take anywhere from 5-7 years to develop if the student is strong in their own mother-tongue language, but can even take up to 10 years to master if they do not have a strong grasp of their own language and literacy.
When people say that students can learn English quickly, they simply mean “conversational” English or BICS. But once the student is placed in the English mainstream class, they are required to go above and beyond BICS—they are required to think, analyze and reason through the language and that will take them several years to develop.
EXITING STUDENTS FROM ADDITIONAL SUPPORTS
Once BMLs have received support at school for around 3 years, they are now “fluent” in English and no longer need support.
This myth is one of the most widespread beliefs that has more to do with money and funding than anything else. In most school boards/districts and even in most international schools, students are given support for 2-3 years and then they are often “exited” when they seem to be proficient in English. From what we’ve learned above, we now know this is likely based on the fact that BMLs seem really proficient in the spoken or social language (aka BICS). They may speak with the accent of their region, they may seem fluent in their pace and rate of speech, and they may even have good confidence when speaking to others. However, when these students are “exited” from the ELL/EAL department at their school, it is very likely that their need for continued academic support will be unrecognized. In fact, because “bilingualism” and “multilingualism” is a lifelong process, BMLs are likely to experience many different types of challenges all along the way to graduation, even when they are “fluent” and have been learning through English for several years.
Since the research shows that BMLs are often 2-3 years below grade-level, this means that reading materials, high-level writing and communication will be a particular challenge. If BMLs are not kept on the ELL/EAL register of their school, their teachers may not recognize these seemingly “fluent” students’ struggles with academics are a result of their language acquisition and not a learning disorder.
Also, even BMLs with high levels of proficiency in English still struggle with academic writing and reading. In secondary school, idioms, metaphors and academic genres are now required to much higher levels. Many BMLs lack exposure and can struggle with these tasks.
So while BMLs may not require the intensive support they might have needed previously, they will still require focused support and teaching to help them transition to CALP or help them develop more advanced knowledge of English literature and linguistic features. This can happen at different stages anywhere along a BMLs’ journey, whether they are beginners or advanced English learners.
This limited notion of a 3-year support model needs to be put to rest. Bilingual and multilingual learners often need a great deal of support once they move from BICS over to CALP since there are more demands on “thinking” in English and they are not able to rely as much on context clues and visual supports and work is much more demanding.
Schools need to redesign their support models for BMLs so that the whole school taps into the high-quality information about how BMLs go about learning English and how whole-school policies can support these processes. As many teachers go about their work in schools where a large number or even a majority of their students are BMLs, it is extremely important that they receive the right training on how to build and create supports that are built-into the school and policies that help educators maximise their time and effort with BMLs.
The more knowledge that teachers are empowered with, the more these longstanding myths will be extinguished. This will ultimately lead to greater awareness, access and provision of services for our bilingual and multilingual learners.
Alison Schofield is an author, educator and international education consultant. She provides support and training to schools and teachers working with bilingual and multilingual learners. She can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org
I grew up in a small town in Northern Ontario, (Canada) which had very few new immigrants. It was rare to see multicultural people or those who spoke diverse languages. Our population was largely made up of English and French-speakers, along with aboriginal people and some older Europeans who still maintained their languages and cultures.
When I go back to visit now, I see that the situation has changed a great deal. There are now more ethnicities than there were previously, and there are even refugees settling into our community quite successfully. This is a growing trend-provoked by globalization, war and other challenges-now taking place around the world.
While diversity in languages and culture offer a richness to our communities and schools, we need to understand that this also creates a unique challenge for education, particularly for teachers and bilingual and multilingual learners (BMLs) who can often be “sinking or swimming” if no additional resources or training are available.
Even in well-resourced private and international schools, the traditional models of support with one or two ESL teachers is no longer effective, especially if the majority of students in the school are bilingual and multilingual learners.
Research shows that most teachers have never received specific training to work with BMLs (NEA Policy Brief, 2014; Premier & Miller, 2005) and this is problematic because much of the research about these students is in fact, counter-intutitve and goes against natural, teacher-logic. For example, getting students to use their mother-tongue languages to support them in the classroom can actually benefit their English development and learning; and while students appear to be fluent in English after around a year or two, this is misleading. Most can have good conversations in English but they actually require between 5-7 years to be fluent in the academic language that school requires. So we just can’t expect teachers to try and figure out the best ways of working with BMLs and supporting them, all on their own. They need specific training to know what to do and why they’re doing it. Schools are no longer able to rely on ESL teachers and traditional approaches when they have a majority population of BMLs. Times have changed and we need to change along with it.
Since teachers can and do have a significant impact on their students’ learning and progress, it makes sense to invest in them—to give them access to the latest research, new information and powerful teaching strategies. They need to be empowered with the kind of expertise they can apply in their classrooms each and every day. Teachers themselves are the new “ESL teachers.”
Once teachers are given the training they need to understand BML issues, their expertise can really have a profound effect on their students and their school. Administrators and teachers are then qualified and able to make more impact by planning whole-school educational programs and initiatives that match the needs of their student body. This kind of “thinking big” creates a new model of support for bilingual and multilingual learners in the school. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach, but requires school teams to combine their expertise with what they know about the BMLs in their specific school.
We know that whole-school initiatives like literacy programming, a focus on vocabulary development and mother-tongue maintenance can greatly contribute to students’ learning and progress. It would makes sense then, to focus heavily on these areas and embed them deliberately within school programs so they enhance all aspects of the teaching and learning. In this way, the enriched educational environment and programme itself serves as the “support” for BMLs. This offers much more value than a remedial model.
This approach also encourages a way of “working smarter, not harder,” since teachers naturally work more cohesively with common goals and apply more consistent teaching approaches across the school. For example, if all the teachers working with students in a particular grade 9 class decided to embed and emphasize the same 25 academic vocabulary words within their classes over 2 months, then students would get greater exposure, repetition and mastery with those words. Similarly, if all teachers were trained to use bilingual approaches with BMLs across the school, then this would have a powerful impact on students’ thinking, learning and overall understanding.
In order to create this kind of high-impact school model to support BMLs, staff training is essential. All teachers and administrators need to be trained in the knowledge-base surrounding BML issues and key teaching strategies. This allows school teams to then design their educational programs and initiatives to create immediate impact. Daily reading and writing, embedded “talk time” within lessons and use of the mother-tongue for thinking, reading or discussion are examples of strategies that can be used by all teachers within their classrooms, on a daily basis. This kind of enrichment, or shall we say, “support,” provides BMLs with a high-quality educational experience, superior to most ESL-type pull-out approaches still used in a large number of schools today.
So would this kind of approach make the ESL Teacher’s role redundant? Absolutely not. These teachers are even more necessary than ever, but their role now requires more expertise and leadership—a co-ordinator within their school. They work with heads of school/principals, teachers and students. They advise and work with management to thoughtfully design the school timetable around school priorities (keeping in mind research-based approaches). They may even plan staff training around these priorities. They work with key people to write school policies that align with research and best practices. They support teachers in planning programs and lessons when needed and they run focused interventions with students (e.g. intensive phonics program for high school BMLs, or even a reading and writing booster class for small groups of primary or middle-school students). In this model, the BML Specialist Teacher is seen as an expert who holds a key role in helping design, implement and monitor school-wide programs and initiatives.
This new model is not revolutionary, it’s not aiming too high. It is clear, concrete and do-able. Pareto’s Principle says that 80 percent of your results come from around 20 percent of your efforts, so even if a school applied just a handful of high-impact approaches or strategies with consistent application, they could expect to get positive results. Just imagine the possibilities that exist when a whole school harnesses their common knowledge-base and expertise, all coming together to provide an enriched academic experience for their BMLs.
Our Institute for Educators of BMLs at IngeniousEd. runs global courses for teachers and administrators, helping them get a solid foundation in BML issues to make powerful impact in their schools and with their bilingual and multilingual learners.
National Education Association (Policy Brief). Professional development for general education teachers and teachers of English language learners.
Premier, J.A. & Miller, J. (2010). Preparing pre-service teachers for multi-cultural classrooms. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 35(2).
Thomas, W. & Collier, V. (1997). School effectiveness for language minority students (NCBE Resource Series No.9). Washington, DC: National Clearninghouse for Bilingual Education.
An international teacher easily interacts with 10-20 different nationalities a day. These schools and classrooms are an anthropolgist’s dream. Just imagine all the fascinating cultural elements that could be explored through your students: attitudes, cultural practices, traditions, taboos and social behaviour. The list coud go on and on.
But just how often do we stop to look at our students as an enthnographers do, taking time to learn about their languages and cultures? Just how valuable are culture and language anyway?
Let me tell you that they play an extremely important role in shaping our students’ identities and experiences. They can also help to build engagement and relevance in student learning.
A Canadian educator, Rebecca, shared a very powerful story with me about her experiences teaching kindergarten in Korea. When she first started, she noticed her students were extremely quiet and avoided eye contact when she spoke to them. As the year went on, and as they became more proficient in English, she watched them become more open, feel comfortable speaking aloud and maintain eye contact when they spoke. One day, she invited the parents to visit the classroom. As they spent time in the class, they observed their children interacting with their teacher and other children. They were extremely surprised at how their children behaved. They noticed the children didn’t bow to their teacher and they spoke out openly to her. They also observed students making direct eye contact with their teacher, which is often considered a sign of disrespect in the Korean culture. They communicated their surprise and concern to Rebecca.
This story illustrates the push-and-pull between cultures that can exist when students attend an international school. They often live between 2 cultures, with their family’s cultures and values played out at home and their international school offering a different (sometimes similar, sometimes very different) set of values and expectations.
Educators can play a very important role in helping to mediate this tension for students. The policies and practices they implement in the school and classroom can help nurture both cultures so that they become interconnected, not disconnected.
This process starts with first understanding the value of our students’ languages and cultures.
Why we need to value student’s languages and cultures:
Our students’ home languages provide a link to their families, their history and ultimately, their identities
The stronger a students’ home language, the easier it is for them to learn a new language, like English
Students use their own cultural lens to view and interpret the world
When we activate students’ languages and cultures in the classroom, information becomes more relevant and meaningful, making learning more comprehensible
How teachers can support students’ cultures and languages in the school and classroom
Enable students to use their mother-tongue languages in the school and classroom.
This is especially powerful for students who are not yet proficient enough in English to understand academic language or to think fluently in English. Getting students to brainstorm in their own languages before writing, or for tasks that involve higher-order thinking can bridge the language barrier and keep them learning content.
These students can also benefit from reading important background information about class topics in their mother-tongue on the internet. This can help them keep up and understand what is going on in the classroom. You can also encourage your students who speak the same languages to discuss class concepts in their mother-tongue; this can make the learning much more meaningful for them. You will also be promoting the ongoing development of their home languages.
Get rid of signs and policies that promote “English only,” in the school and classroom. This sends the message that English deserves a higher-status than students’ home language(s), even if not intentionally. Current research shows that supporting home languages or using bilingual approaches in the classroom does not harm students’ English language development; in fact it supports it.
Engage students’ cultures for more meaningful and interesting learning.
When planning lessons, build in opportunities to engage students’ prior knowledge through their own cultural perspectives. For example, if the topic is “World War II,” you could encourage students to find out what role their countries played in the war instead of reflecting on one dominant perspective. Similarly, you could extend a class unit on “communities” to allow your students to think about or research communities from their own cultures or countries.
Broaden your classroom discussions by asking students’ to share their cultural perspectives on key topics or issues in a safe and respectful way. For example, if the class is studying “Romeo and Juliet” and the theme is “love,” students could share their own cultural belifes around love. Some students might come from cultures where love is not the main reason for marriage, for example, and this viewpoint could be shared within the classroom. These kinds of rich discussions need to be delivered in a nurturing environment where all students’ opinions and perspectives are valued by teachers who set the tone for an open and accepting classroom community. This is especially important when students’ viewpoints are likely to be different to the dominant perspective.
Celebrate your students’ cultures and traditions. Have students share elements of their cultural practices or holidays with their class. Let them see that you are open to learning more about their culture and that you value it. This will help educate all of your students about the richness and diversity that different cultures have to offer.
Teachers can play a very pivotal role in helping students mediate their home cultures and their “school cultures.” Both are important and contribute to a strong personal identity. As our world becomes more globalized, individuals with bicultural or multicultural knowledge will be a valuable asset and resource to their societies.
Alison Schofield is a former international teacher who now works as an educational consultant and bilingual expert. She is based in Dubai, U.A.E. and is co-author of the book and global professional development program for teachers called, Bilingual and Multilingual Learners from the Inside-Out. www.EducatorsOfBmls.com Twitter: @educatorBmls
A couple of years ago, one of our bilingual students created this little story book about herself and her pet rabbit. Her pictures were beautiful and her written message was appropriate considering she’d been in an English school for one year. She was in grade one at the time and her teacher was concerned that her oral language seemed to be developing but her writing was much ‘weaker’ and had more ‘errors.’
This child came into our after-school literacy intervention group so she could get more access to reading and writing. When it came time to write each day, she was enthusiastic but did need additional time to think and record her thoughts. She was always happy to share her work once finished. We immediately noticed patterns in her writing and her ‘errors’ gave us clues as to how she was thinking and processing language. These “errors” signaled something deeper than simple mistakes that needed to be corrected.
In the example above, “I want to go at my slap room” was her way of expressing, “I want to go to my bedroom.”
In the Dutch language (which was her mother-tongue), the word for “bedroom” is called “slaapkamer.” Our student wasn’t able to recall the whole word, “bedroom” in English so she began to pull from her first language and combined it with what she could remember in English. In this way, she tried in the best way she could to come up with a meaningful message. Since Francesca had some knowledge of Dutch, we were able to put two-and-two together to make sense of her story and what was going on in her head.
This is a brilliant example of what often happens to BMLs when they’re learning English. These students often use their own mother-tongue (MT) or other language to think in. They rely on this language to support them when they do not have enough vocabulary in English to start “thinking” in it. Often, they try to apply the grammatical rules from their own language to English since that comes naturally to them; or they might even try to use vocabulary from their own language to “fill-in-the-blanks” when they don’t know a word in English. It is important to encourage our BMLs to do this if they need to, so that it can help to bridge their gaps. It will also allow them to gain confidence in expressing themselves. Sometimes BMLs become afraid to write if they worry that their work is “incorrect” or might be marked wrong.
Teachers can support BMLs at every stage of their development by allowing them to use their MT or other language to support their English. Try to understand your BMLs and why they might have made a particular kind of “error” in their writing.Get to know a little about their home language and maybe even a little about its structure. If you have a staff or adult around who speaks the same language, let them take a look at the work and give you some insights about what the child might have been thinking.
Even just knowing that it’s perfectly okay for your student to think in or use their mother-tongue (or other language) to support their growing English can give you confidence as a teacher. It can also help you explain to parents why they shouldn’t worry if their child is making these kinds of mistakes. When parents see that you have the answers and can reassure them that their child’s development is normal, they’ll trust you. Then as your BMLs gain greater proficiency and knowledge of English, you are likely to see less of these kinds of “errors.”
Last month, we travelled to Toronto to attend the IB Conference of the Americas. It was a truly wonderful event and gave us the opportunity to share our Institute and our work with other high-quality educators from around the world.
One particularly outstanding keynote speaker at the event was Wab Kinew, an indigenous Canadian author and politician from Manitoba. He spoke passionately about the value that indigenous people bring to the table if given the opportunity to help solve some of the most challenging global issues:
When I look at the great challenges of our time, I know that indigenous communities, marginalised communities, have something to offer as we struggle to meet these challenges. Sometimes we call it the ‘global war on terrorism.’ So how are we going to respond to that? Remember when Sitting Bull said, ‘In order for there to be peace, it is not necessary that eagles become crows.’ Keep in mind he spoke these words during the Indian War when the US cavalry was hunting the women and children of his nation. So even in the midst of an armed conflict, he still saw fit to recognise the humanity of the people on the other side of the equation. When we talk about the environment, to me it surely seems like the people who know the Earth is our Mother, who know the animals and plants around us are our relatives, would have something to offer-might have some ideas on how to build a more meaningful, sustainable society. And when we talk about the challenge of migration, it seems to me that people who greeted newcomers generations ago, to have that trust betrayed and yet still stand with their hand extended saying, ‘let us build a good relationship,’ might have a thing or two to offer to that conversation about responding to migration and accommodating differences to build a pluralistic society together.
While he shared personal stories about his father’s struggles as a result of being a survivor of the residential school movement, he emphasised the importance of education and how the youth of today can make an impact in repairing the damage to their culture and people while contributing in meaningful ways. Helping individuals remain close to their languages and cultures allows them to participate as bi-cultural citizens which only enrich society as-a-whole. This was a very profound talk which resonated deeply with our beliefs and our work. You can watch Wab Kinew’s talk along with some of the other keynote speakers from the IB Conference of the America’s HERE.