NALDIC Yorkshire and Humberside RIG meeting report

On the 6th of November 2014, I made a rather long trip to Bradford to attend a meeting of the NALDIC Regional Interest Group (RIG) for Yorkshire and Humberside. This was an excellent way to network with some of the local teachers in my current geographical location. The event took place between 4pm and 7pm at Carlton Bolling Colelge, and its theme was Translanguaging: funds of knowledge. It was, of course, packed with a number of fascinating presentations from many different professionals in the field – so I didn’t mind travelling to and fro at all!

 

TRANSLANGUAGING AS A PEDAGOGY: FROM THE MARGINS TO THE MAINSTREAM

The first to present was the rather famous Jean Conteh, a professor at the Leeds University. She has been a very prolific academic writer (books and journals) on EAL and language education and had worked as a teacher for many years in primary education. Her presentation was on Translanguaging as a pedagogy: from the margins to the mainstream. This was a terrific way to start the event since Jean has explained and brought to home the term translanguaging.

Jean first has focused on translanguaging as pedagogy. First, she spoke of how pedagogy can be viewed as more than just instruction – Robin Alexander, in his 2004 article for Cambridge Journal of Education insists that it is the discourse that informs teaching and that teaching policies are only brought to life through the interaction between teachers as learners. In Bilingual education in the 21st century: a global perspective, Garcia (2009) claims that teachers repeatedly create and change policies as they practice the actual teaching.

What is translanguaging, then? Jean has provided a very useful example from a classroom of what it might be: an 8-year-old learner, speaking Punjabi and English, explaining how she gets her answers in Maths: first doing it in her head in Punjabi and then saying it in English. Translanguaging, therefore, can be seen as operating in two different languages. Here, yet again, Jean quoted Garcia (2009) who says that translanguaging is a set of discourse practices utilized by bilinguals to make sense of their bilingual worlds. According to Jean’s slides, Garcia also reminds us that translanguaging is more than code-switching (code-switching being the practice of alternating being languages within a conversation – for an interesting set of examples of why people code-switch, please visit this NPR’s blog post). My own post-meeting research has uncovered “Code Switching” in Sociocultural Linguistics by Chad Nilep of the University of Colorado in the abstract of which Nilep wrote (2006) that it’s “defined as the practice of selecting or altering linguistic elements so as to contextualize talk in interaction. This contextualization may relate to local discourse practices, such as turn selection or various forms of bracketing, or it may make relevant information beyond the current exchange, including knowledge of society and diverse identities. ” (please visit this link to read the entire article). What Jean was saying was that whilst code-switching might be seen as a pure act or action within a conversation, translanguaging relates to how a world is conceptualized by bilinguals; being, therefore, a broader social construct rather a description of simple moving between the languages.

Jean then quoted Creese and Blackledge (2010), who state that when people translanguage, they “make meaning, transmit information, and perform identities using the linguistic signs at [their] disposal to connect with [their] audience in community engagement.” This was displayed in Jean’s presentation, but if you are curious to read more, then the above taken from Creese and Blackledge’s Multilingualism: A Critical Perspective (2010). The book can be bought from Amazon.co.uk.

She then moved to translanguaging in pedagogy. She spoke of how in Wales, translanguaging is a regular pedagogical practice. She brought us an example from a geography lesson delivered to 7-9 year olds, referring to Lewis et al. (2012)’s journal article Translanguaging: developing its conceptualisation and contextualisation, available from Taylor & Francis. In it, pupils read together information about Fair Trade in English first, teacher questions pupils orally in English, explains key terms ‘community’ and ‘environment’ in Welsh and, in the end, pupils prepare a poster about the importance of fair trade in Welsh.

So what are potential advantages of translanguaging for our students? Jean spoke of Baker (2011: Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism), who suggests that it can:

  • help with the better understanding of the content of lessons,
  • help develop the weaker language,
  • help with home-school links and collaboration
  • help integrate more fluent learners with early learners of the target language

However, the educational world is not necessarily ready for translanguaging and Jean reminded us that it also poses a challenge to ‘national’ and ‘standard’ languages in that people no longer fit into monolingual categories, a certain language can be, as she stressed, ‘owned’ by people who are not its native speakers, and languages have stopped being contained within national boundaries. Further, she said, translanguaging is also a challenge to the traditional constructs of bilingual education. Traditional models of such education would keep two languages separate, consider mixing languages as wrong, focus on the target language and want to provide models of the standard language. What is particularly striking to me as I think about this is how the English language itself can be a challenge to itself! A few months ago, I moved out of London to live in Kingston-upon-Hull. I keep hearing adults at my school, including some teachers, say “we was” rather than “we were”. This is clearly a local way of speaking – should we consider this wrong? Nobody around me seemed to use this grammatical structure down south. Is it wrong? If not, then surely this similar principle should apply to bilinguals who might not speak “good standard English”. Just something for you to think about.

Back to Jean’s presentation. She insisted that multingualism in the world is normal and she said that there are almost no countries in the world where everyone would speak or identify with only one language. She showed us a picture from a Bradford street, which I wish I could replicate here, but do conjure up an image of a street in an English city and you will know that so many high streets have different language / different nationality shops located right next to each other. Just around from where I live, there is a mixture of Egyptian, Arabic, Polish and Greek shops. It’s natural and it’s normal, as she says.

Jean asserts that bilingualism should not be seen as two completely separate systems and languages are not bound autonomous systems. She compares bilingualism to an “all-terrain vehicle”, which allows bilinguals to negotiate different grounds: in different social contexts and situations: flexibly and with confidence. She now made a reference to the well-known piece of research by Cummins: Common Underlying Proficiency (2001), to emphasize and support her point that L1 and L2 are processed in interconnected ways. (please see this website for the basics of CUP). She followed this by stating that knowledge and understanding of one language links to understanding new languages, particularly important for literacy. However, it has to be remembered that students need to have a good grasp (what Jean termed “a threshold level”) of literacy in both languages to be able to use their bilingualism to their advantage.

All of this, as exciting and promising as it is, does not appear to agree very well with the nature of most school systems in the world. As Jean so rightly observed, most school systems take the hierarchy of languages present in their societies and replicate it at schools – including the lack of value for the languages spoken by students at home.

She also said that children want to be able to use their home languages for their learning at school. Working in both languages (quoting Kenner et al. 2008: Bilingual Learning for Second and Third Generation Children) allows children to reap benefits such as: if they understand a concept in one language, they can understand it in another; they have a greater understanding of how languages work; they can draw more fully on their knowledge and awareness of culture.

As a conclusion to her talk, Jean spoke from personal experience: she spoke of Shahid, aged 10, who is proud of being able to use his language to help someone else who can’t understand English. She spoke of children expressing their wishes to have more languages at schools. She spoke of parents who were glad to have a teacher at school speaking Punjabi, happy that the language is respected and spoken as it helps the children communicate with their grandparents. Finally, she spoke of bilingual teachers, who felt that their bilingualism helps them relate to the children with whom they work.

However, Jean acknowledges the pressures existing in the system. She cited, in her presentation, a view of a mainstream manager, who expressed concerns that, regardless of what language children speak, they need to be able to get good exam results and attainment can be severely affected if their English language is not developed well enough.

Jean encourages us to think differently about language, learning, learners and teachers when promoting multilingual education. She calls for the establishment of pedagogies which recognize the complexities of learners’ and teachers’ everyday lives. We need, she says, a global understanding of the factors that may contribute to students’ success in different contexts.

 

IDENTIFYING BARRIERS TO LEARNING FOR YOUNG MIGRANT MULTILINGUALS

After this, rather amazing, presentation came a talk from Robert Sharples. It was called Identifying barriers to learning for young migrant multilinguals. Robert is a PhD candidate at the Leeds University. You can view his academic profile at the Academia.Edu website. He spoke to us about his own research that he has been conducting at a secondary academy in the south of England.

In the case of the school where his research took place, the EAL learners, whom he termed “young migrant multilinguals” (he feels that the term EAL is too broad), were withdrawn from the mainstream completely. In other words, they are put in a completely separate stream (but younger children are taught in mainstream classes and supported by EAL teachers at the school). It should also be noted that all the multilingual migrants in the classroom he was referring to have arrived at the school in year 10 or above. Thus, he works with students, who are very diverse, in years 10 to 13, in what the school calls “pre-intermediate” class. The migrant multilinguals are very diverse in terms of nationality, language, ethnicity, migration experiences, family situation, prior schooling and literacy. He brought us the data from his research – his field notes from two days in October 2014, so clearly very fresh!

What Robert has done was analyse who in the class talks to whom. Some of the students moved between Spanish and Portuguese, claiming it was not difficult. Very interestingly, Robert has heard the children state “I speak German” depending on which language they were using at the time.

English was the only allowed language in the classroom, but Robert has certainly observed other languages happening regardless. He’s also noticed that because some teachers speak Spanish at the school, Spanish has a higher status than a number of other languages. English only is a very artificial concept to students because of the environment the students live in. This – English-only requirement – is clearly a barrier put up before students. It is only problematic here as in this particular class, there are only multilingual students. Robert adds  that he’s not suggesting that English shouldn’t be used, but the data do suggest it is not advantageous to group the multilingual students together and then insist on them acting like monolinguals. Another barrier, Robert said, is the grammar-led linear curriculum in the language classroom.

However, there are not only barriers; the students create opportunities for learning: they use other languages to integrate. Different languages reflect their voices and allow them to tell their stories.

So insisting on speaking English-only can be a barrier to learning for students. Worth considering? I think so – too often it is the case that students are told to not use their own languages, which clearly negates their background, their past experience and the benefits that translanguaging can bring them. This is not to say that English is not crucial to their attainment (as spoken of by Jean in her presentation), but denying them their own language can, I believe, bring more harm than good, particularly in those beginner / “pre-intermediate” stages.

 

THE EFFECTIVE USE OF RESOURCES TO ENABLE STUDENTS TO MAKE PROGRESS IN A MAINSTREAM SETTING

The next presentation and talk, from Charlotte Wood, was on The Effective Use of Resources to Enable Students to Make Progress in a Mainstream Setting. Charlotte is a Science teacher at a secondary school in Bradford. I found the fact that a mainstream teacher spoke to us very refreshing. I loved it: we are not a closed-up club; we are to work for the benefit of mainstreamed children and mainstream teachers, so it was lovely to hear from a mainstream teacher on how she felt EAL students can be included!

When she moved to Bradford to work, she quickly realized how many EAL learners she would need to teach there! In Bradford, in 2013, she said, there were 43.7% of EAL students, whilst in North Yorkshire… 3%. At her school, there are 65.8% EAL students. She very quickly realized that using L1 is far more effective than L2. Luckily, she does have access to a language other than English as she is a speaker of Spanish as well. Therefore, she was able to:

  • use Spanish to create safe environment for her students
  • use key words and questioning strategies in Spanish
  • provide them with gap fill activities
  • use mind mapping
  • use visual learning strategies
  • use recognition games
  • use matching activities – using L1

She showed us an example of a gap-fill she created for her students and another: an activity task translated into Spanish.

So it can be done! Where there is a will, there is a way!

 

STUDENT VOICE

Next up, was Pete Ruse. Pete is a teacher from Rochdale and he spoke to us about a Student Voice project he and his team in Rochdale have been developing for quite some time now. First, however, he referred to how different the linguistic and cultural experiences of our students can be! He spoke of one of his students, a speaker of Yoruba, German and Iris: the diversity of individual experience can be phenomenal!

Pete works in Rochdale and assesses EAL oracy. In this process, EAL students are asked about languages. In this process he has learned to deal with certain barriers: sometimes, children do not mention a language they speak because they think that their interviewer might not know that the language even exists, or, on occasion, children do not know the name of their language themselves. Pete said that he’s known of some primaries that actually ban the use of L1! – meaning not in an EAL class, even, but actually in the playground!

Pete said that the responses he gets from various EAL students to the question: What’s it like being bilingual? can be placed on the following continuum:

bilingualrespcontinuumRegardless of their opinions, however, Pete says they value these conversations.

The team also conducts EAL interviews with Year 11 students when they exit schools. This is a brilliant idea – and one, I have to say, I have not heard of before! Pete says the idea here is to celebrate how far they’ve come and to gather evidence that EAL provision for these students does make a difference.

Students speak of the difference between when they first came and now. They remember how afraid and/or embarrassed they were when they started their UK education. They remember what helped them: for instance, EAL homework clubs or lunch clubs.

They also speak of their plans for the future. Pete said that they understand their predicament: for instance, one student has said that he (or she – I am not certain) wants to be a doctor, but now he/she doesn’t think he/she can be one because of the his/her GCSE grades not being good enough.

 

SIGNS OF LANGUAGE AND BILITERACY PROJECT

Next, we had a presentation from Kitte and Line from Denmark – they came all the way from Aarhus! They work at VIA University College in Aarhus in its Research Centre for Language, Literacy and & Learning. They spoke to us about two projects they’ve been involved in: Signs of Language (2008-2015) and Biliteracy Project (2011-2014).

The Signs of Language project has is a longitudinal research project, a cooperation between the Aarhus University, four university colleges, five municipalities and five schools in multilingual inner-city areas as well as the Danish Ministry of Education. Sounds big!

The project has been following children in five multilingual schools from pre-school until Year 6. The research aim was to understand how children who are multilingual learn and how they use their multilingual resources in their lessons. It also aims to develop strategies for teaching literacy in multilingual classrooms. The data is collected by research assistants and then analysed primarily in the research group. The other strand of the research is action research-based teaching cycles. These teaching cycles are planned locally, taught by local teachers and analysed in school groups. There are two teaching cycles in each school year.

One activity used in the classrooms that our were used that our presenters showed us was called My Linguistic Map, with children writing directly on maps: writing their associations with a particular part of the world. Another one was writing cartoons using two languages within one piece of writing (e.g. narration in one language, but speech bubble text in another).

Biliteracy Project was conducted in kindergartens in Denmark. A full information booklet on the project can be viewed at: http://www.swiflet.com/via/div/1/2/. It had its pilot phase (2011-2012), stage 1 (2012-2013) and stage 2 (2013-2014). The aims were to find out what children know about their written languages and what pedagogy strengthens their linguistic abilities. The pilot phase focused on 7 children.

The project involved parents as writers as well as children as writers. Kitte and Line said that the sight of their parents writing and making display has made a great (positive) impression on the children. They were proud of their achievement and made the children want to find out more about their languages. The children as writers part of the project (for instance, children were making charts using their languages) – ensured that they revisited their linguistic identity as readers and writers.

It’s a brilliant idea to involve parents!

The entire project’s website is at: https://ucc.dk/forskning/forskningsprogrammer/didaktik-og-laeringsrum/projektoversigt/tegn-paa-sprog . It is in Danish, of course, but there is an introduction to Signs of Language article/document in English at: https://ucc.dk/files/ucc.dk/signs_of_language_-_an_introduction.pdf

There is also a number of articles that are in English-language journals, so do read up!

Kitte and Line said that they thought these projects search for new ways for teaching language and literacy, challenge mutlilingual (and all other) children, challenge teachers and involve the academic researchers and teachers in a collaborative effort (something I am really big on!).

 

BILINGUAL LEARNING AND TEACHING ASSOCIATION: SATURDAY FIRST LANGUAGE CLUB

Our next presenter was a Saiqa. She is involved with Bilingual Learning and Teaching Association in Bradford (http://www.blta.co.uk). She gave an absolutely spectacular talk on the research and project she has been involved with in Bradford. I tried to make proper notes of what she was saying, but it was rather difficult as she was talking in such a heartfelt way!

She first spoke of how she had observed long time ago that there is often no acknowledgment of the presence of bilingual children in the classroom – only some tokenistic practices (you must know that putting up an occasional display linked to languages once a year is often more of a lip service than anything else!). Saiqa also mentioned that a lot of bilingual children experience an identity crisis: i.e. they are not exactly English as their background is different, but if you are a heritage student (meaning a second or third generation child) than you do not exactly feel belonging to your family’s background either. So, you can feel stuck in between the two.

So – a Saturday club has been set up in Bradford – catering to students’ literacy and numeracy through their own language. This raises awareness of the issue – of the importance of L1 – with children, parents and schools. Saiqa said it was very important to the founders of the club that it was happening in schools and wasn’t a separate thing that is done away from schools: schools had to be on-board of this initiative.  The clubs provide support for the use of L1 in a class.

Some parents have realized they could be interpreters for their own children. For instance, parents and their children play barrier games with their children, practicing L1 through such activities.

The initiative reminds people that children may lose their first language if it’s not attended to. By the way, I am married to an English lady, and came to live in the UK in 2007 – and am already starting to struggle with some Polish phrases and pronunciation as I operate solely in English every single day. So if that’s me – what do you think can and does happen to a child who was born in England? Rhetorical question, really. The club that Saiqa has been involved in is so important! – for catering to cultural and linguistic identities, but also so that bilingual children can reap those massive bilingualism / translanguaging benefits that Jean spoke of in her talk.

The Saturday clubs are run at a few schools and Saiqa and her team are doing the best they can get as many schools as they can on-board! If you are in Bradford, get interested!

 

READING PROJECT IN HUDDERSFIELD

Our last speaker was Alison O’Grady. She is an English teacher and SEN teacher, based at a school in Huddersfield, and works with EAL learners as well.

She had this idea one day! Let her students read for pleasure! She actually spent a considerable time at one point reading to a group of bilingual boys – just reading. You know, no assessment at the end, no targets, no attainment/progress attached to it. Just reading!

That way, she also used the reading for pleasure to get her students to tell their own personal stories. She said that the power of reading outside the academic pressures (remember she is an English teacher, so she knows what she’s talking about!), for pure enjoyment, is enormous. This project has clearly been very successful. Alison suggests that we promote with our EAL students the reading in L1 until they’re comfortable with reading in L2.

It certainly is very easy to agree with this… If a student already enjoys reading in his or her own language, why take this away from them by making them in the one that they don’t know very well yet? Alison spoke of some of her students reading the Twilight saga in their language. When they’re ready, they will move to reading in English. This is why Alison has books in other languages on library shelves at her school.

Oh, and by the way – anyone knows J.K.Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat? I can vouch for this: hard to believe, but it’s actually funnier in the Polish translation I read years ago. Not to take away from the brilliant original, but the Polish translators, years ago, did a marvelous job there! Why not let our students use their two languages for enjoying their own literacy skills? Two is better than one!

This concluded all the speeches and talks – what a fantastic, enjoyable and incredibly friendly event. I loved every bit of it and certainly didn’t mind travelling to Bradford from Hull (and back) that day. Great networking opportunities, too, of course.

Huge thanks to Dianne Excell, too, and anyone else I don’t know of who helped organize this event. It was brilliant – such an eye opener and broadening of my horizons. It was certainly a lot to take home. I can’t wait for the next RIG. Don’t miss it yourself.

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