IDEA #5: Why your Bilingual/Multilingual Learners Need Projects Right Now

IDEA #5: Why your Bilingual/Multilingual Learners Need Projects Right Now

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: alison@educatorsofbmls.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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