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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DIFFERENT WAYS OF LEARNING THROUGH HOME LANGUAGES

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

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

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

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

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