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?

Reframe our Language – From ‘Lost’ to ‘Leverage’

In a world where information is so easily accessible and communication is immediate, it isn’t long before a phrase begins to ‘trend’ on our news feeds. A storyline of a particular issue or topic is quick to dominate the narrative. This has most definitely been the case with the current trend to refer to our students’ learning experience over the past 12 months as being ‘Lost Learning’ due to the pandemic. This is an emotive, negative framing of what has occured over the past 12 months – the idea that our students have all ‘lost learning’, are ‘behind’, or are ‘disadvantaged’ creates a sense of unhealthy panic and urgency for parents, teachers and also our students.

I am not disputing that there is huge inequity in learning access over the past 12 months. A massive issue to be addressed. However, negative language only serves to disempower everyone and leave us in an even greater space of uncertainty – as if we weren’t already all dealing with enough of the unknown right now! It is also hugely discouraging to the many teachers and parents who have put forth so much effort during this time to support their students and children in continuing to grow and learn.

It has prompted my to to think once again about the power of the language we use, what this projects, and the impacts it has. I wrote previously about how small words can instigate big changes and also the power of our attitude and outlook to propel or hinder learning and growth.

I came across this quote on twitter that someone had taken from a workshop with Kath Murdoch.

“The language we use suggests to children what we value.”

@kjinquiry

It made me think about what the phrase ‘Lost Learning’ says to our children. Does it tell them we value them? For me, the phrase emits the following messages:

  • You’re behind
  • You’re on your own
  • You won’t be able to find it (learning)
  • You’re missing out
  • You are disadvantaged
  • You can’t
  • It (the learning) is gone

Which language will help us to reframe the ‘lost learning’ narrative? How can we shift our focus to being on our students? After all they are the agents of their own learning. Learning is not something that is done to someone. We need to rethink our language to shift our thinking and give space for us to focus on what is important. I believe this to be empowering our students to believe they are capable of learning, that they can grow and achieve. Language that empowers and that instills a growth mindset can help us. Appreciative inquiry practices can help us to be builders upon the foundations we have. Most importantly, Listening to our students can help us help them.

The more important question is, how do we leverage this new and different learning? How do we reframe our own thinking? How do we make sure we look at the whole picture and not just the pieces of the puzzle to put things together with our students? This all requires us to step back, look from multiple perspectives and seek out opportunities to put things together in new and different ways.

  • We must celebrate what has been learned during this time – and there is a lot to celebrate if we are willing to look, listen and ‘unlearn to relearn’. We must be open to learn about their experiences.
  • We have to accept the specific type and nature of learning growth is not exactly what had been prescribed and intended. We need to harness opportunities here. Learn about where students are in their learning to leverage and build upon this.
  • We must model being responsive, adaptable, agile and open-minded and that will empower our students for the future.
  • We must believe in our students’ capacities. This is crucial to fostering a culture of learning and ensuring our students are never ‘lost’.
Interesting Reading

The Ridiculousness of Learning Loss by John Ewing

Students Respond to Adults’ Fixation on ‘Learning Loss’ by Larry Ferlazzo

Lost Learning Time Is Not the Crisis by Jen Roesch

Why there’s no such thing as lost learning by James Williams

Openhouse – Online Learning

I had the pleasure of speaking with the Openhouse Team as part of a Webinar recently, connecting a range of global voices – we discussed the challenges and changes over the past year in regards to online/distance learning. Also on the panel were Allan Shaw, Principal of The Knox School in Melbourne, Saloni Todi, a first year Hong Kong University student, and Yashovardhan Poddar, co founder of Openhouse,

Openhouse is a learning community based in India with a bold mission centred around nurturing a better society for all.

“Our mission is to build a better society by creating powerful communities. We believe visionaries are not born but nurtured. So by redefining how the world learns, we empower students to become thinkers and leaders. Changing society, one child at a time…..”

Openhouse https://www.blog.openhouse.study/our-story

I was delighted to be part of this conversation, listen and learn from other perspectives, and explore how fostering a sense of community has helped support continued learning during this time. Grounding ourselves, and our students, in a shared learning community; one of acceptance, vulnerability and with a growth mindset have all been key. I loved learning about how this looked in different contexts and being inspired by these different voices. You can read more on the Openhouse blog – thanks Openhouse team!

https://www.blog.openhouse.study/online-learning-revised