Multilingual Voices

We often hear and use phrases like ‘student agency’, ‘student voice’, ‘student action’ in our daily conversations about learning. I continue to be fascinated about language acquisition and growth; the factors that accelerate and foster this, and those that inhibit language development. In an international school community, in fact I would argue in the majority of school communities world-wide, our students are no longer from a single language experience or, in many cases, a single cultural experience. The reality is our students are more language rich than ever and exposed to a myriad opportunities to develop and grow lingustically as well as deepen their understanding of other languages and cultures. I am wondering how we leverage this rich language experience to enable students to really be able to fully express themselves. How do we ensure that language rich is not translated to ‘English Language rich’ in our international schools? How do we foster value in all languages as adding to learning rather than detracting from it?

Attending the ECIS (Educational Collaborative for International Schools) Multilingual Learners Week #ECISMLIE online provided a huge amount of insights, expertise and food for thought about best practices in bilingual multilingual language learning. It was such a valuable collection of voices sharing a range of experiences and best practices as we learn more and more about bilingual multilingual learners.

What are the conscious and subconscious messages we send as organisations and as individuals? When considering our learning environments and the language acquisition journey I wonder how we can make our beliefs visible in a more intentional way?

For example, I believe:

  • Language learning is a lifelong learning process, not a a finite destination we need to propel learners through.
  • Linguistic acquisition ability is not connected to nationality, nor is it all good or all bad, all easy or challenging, it just looks different for everyone.
  • Language learners should be encouraged to use all their languages, not be limited through negating their home language use in the classroom.
  • Learning environments should reflect the language experiences of the learners rather than the curriculum.

Four Action Ideas

  1. Stay current with research and support others in doing so, our student, teacher and parent community must know about language acquisition.
  2. Encourage a positive mindset towards language learning, role model, be honest and empathetic, celebrate successes and acknowledge when it is hard – most of all help each individual learner find their purpose.
  3. Embed translanguaging practices into learning and planning. Question and challenge teachers to think about learning purpose and design the practices needed to guide students to reach a specific learning outcome.
  4. Promote visible linguistic diversity in classrooms and throughout the school, value the use of many languages, for many purposes.

I hope to look back 12 months from now and be able to reflect on how I have taken further action to better foster multilingual voices. What action might you take in your context?

Reflections on Intercultural Understanding

I recently concluded two days of listening, exploring and learning about developing intercultural understanding within our school communities. As someone who signed up to participate in the course, I am already committed to the critical nature with which we must address promoting intercultural understanding. Evidence is all around us signalling the need for us to act; learn from the past, and listen, really listen to understand. The two days spent with a knowledgeable and interesting group of people, was insightful, thought provoking and provided me with so many ideas and ambitions as I prepare for the upcoming school year! As we got to know each other virtually, what struck me most is the joy that comes from simply hearing other people’s stories. We shared artifacts that reflected our identities and made connections; reveling in commonalities, and curious to know more about differences that we identified. A reminder of just how important giving space for this type of sharing is as we bring students, teachers and our parent community together.

The Teaching and Learning for Intercultural Understanding Summer Institute was facilitated by three wonderful educational leaders, Debra Rader, Sarah Kupke and Heidi Bachman. The institute was based around the work of Debra Rader, and her development of a Framework for Developing Intercultural Understanding (Rader, 2016), which is published in her book Teaching and Learning for Intercultural Understanding: Engaging Young Hearts and Minds. (Routledge, 2018) A highly recommended book for those of you interested in fostering intercultural understanding with children; it comes with lesson plans and resources to accompany a whole host of high quality children’s literature.

What is Intercultural Understanding? 

This is defined in the book as:

…the willingness and ability to interact effectively and appropriately with people different from ourselves, and in diverse cultural settings. This requires knowledge and understanding, beliefs, values and attitudes, and skills and behaviours that are developed throughout our lives.’

Rader, 2018
  • Knowledge and understanding
  • Transformative beliefs, values and attitudes
  • Essential Intercultural Interpersonal and Life Skills 
  • Engagement in positive action

Through exploring the Framework, with all of the diverse perspectives, insights and experiences, it helped me to reflect on how I might envisage using this as a next step in my own school community. These are some of the ways in which I could envisage using the Framework to support further embedding Intercultural Understanding:

Knowledge and Understanding

  • audit our curriculum: Review our Programme of Inquiry to identify where we see different elements addressed, where we see opportunities and how we can deepen learning and understanding.
  • engage our students and teachers in a review of literature and resources used – do these include multiple diverse perspectives? Identify resources to include to support intercultural understanding.
  • identify ways in which our Home Language Program can incorporate elements of knowledge and understanding related to building intercultural understanding
  • use the Framework to review our celebrations, events and traditions. How do we already foster intercultural understanding? How can we do better?
  • when reviewing policies, use the framework as a lens through which to pose relevant questions, identify strengths and gaps
  • explore the routines and rituals we have as a learning community. Identify core questions we can be posing to continually foster deepening knowledge and understanding
  • engage student leaders in identifying ways in which they can promote and share their knowledge and understanding. Where do students have a voice in our community? 

Transformative Beliefs, Values and Attitudes

  • as a tool for initiating discussion within our community about beliefs, values and attitudes. Where do we see our strengths in these areas? What is our shared vision as a community?
  • connect these to our mission, Learner Profile and Educational Philosophy statements
  • make these visible through explicit sharing in our celebrations, school traditions and rituals
  • re-focus the work of our Diversity Committee to explore these transformative beliefs, values and attitudes, and find avenues through which to articulate and celebrate these

Essential Intercultural, Interpersonal and Life Skills

  • review our curriculum to identify where we currently address these 
  • articulate these essential intercultural, interpersonal and life skills through the IB Approaches to Learning skill progression
  • make these skills visible with our students through a split screen approach in their learning
  • use reflective practices that require students and teachers to consider these core elements

Engagement in Positive Action

  • identify ways in which to share, promote and celebrate individual positive actions – within and beyond classrooms
  • incorporate the Sustainable Development Goals as a framework and lens through which to organise our actions as a community
  • encourage and build partnerships within our local community to encourage and model individual and collective action
  • implement our Eco School action plan to unite our community in committing to sustainable practices on both an individual and school wide level
  • identify ways in which to share, promote and celebrate individual positive actions – within and beyond classrooms
  • incorporate the Sustainable Development Goals as a framework and lens through which to organise our actions as a community
  • encourage and build partnerships within our local community to encourage and model individual and collective action
  • implement our Eco School action plan to unite our community in committing to sustainable practices on both an individual and school wide level

What other ideas can you see? How might you use this Framework within your school context? I am curious to learn of other thoughts and ideas and to hear examples of how schools are actively addressing intercultural understanding in their communities.