Unless a child understands what’s going on in the classroom, they won’t engage, they won’t attend, and they won’t learn anything.

Interesting news from Australia via Crikeys blog. it discusses the report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs inquiry into language learning in indigenous communities, which of course is really interesting to me.

No English means no future.

We at Fully (sic) completely agree with this opinion: without access to the standard national language, an individual, or more accurately, an entire community of people, will have no prospects beyond the cultural and linguistic borders of their community. The question is how best to ensure that these children learn English. As the report clearly states time and time again, bilingual education, i.e., teaching children for the first few years of primary school in their first language before gradually transitioning into the target language, in this case English, is the proven most effective way to do this.

To see the original http://blogs.crikey.com.au/fullysic/2012/09/18/first-language-education-is-a-matter-of-common-sense/

This is quite a popular story here is another link to a news story  a Report by India Education bureau; Melbourne: A group of indigenous
language researchers from the University of Melbourne is calling on the Federal
Government to implement a proposal to introduce bilingual teaching programs in
some schoolshttp://www.indiaeducationdiary.in/showEE.asp?newsid=15601 “Without a bilingual program, children are being taught in a language they are
not familiar with. This means they often don’t understand what is going on, and
then don’t engage,” she said. This is all too familiar in too many classrooms.

or read further…

As Greg Dickson reported, the report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs inquiry into language learning in indigenous communities, titled Our Land Our Languages, was tabled in parliament yesterday. Education was of course, a central theme of the inquiry and is a significant part of the resulting report.

Of the eight terms of reference of the inquiry, three relate to education. They are:

  • The potential benefits of including Indigenous languages in early education
  • Measures to improve education outcomes in those Indigenous communities where English is a second Language
  • The educational and vocational benefits of ensuring English language competency amongst Indigenous communities

The areas that the committee covered included attendance rates in remote schools, the lack of trained indigenous teachers and the inadequate training of non-indigenous teachers given the context, the lack of language testing to establish just what language a child speaks when entering the school system, NAPLAN and its inherent problems for non-English speaking students, and perhaps most importantly, how best to achieve competency in Standard Australian English (SAE). Bilingual education, as you might expect, features heavily in the submissions, the hearings and the report.

Bilingual education is clearly a hotly debated topic and the proponents and opponents are quite categorically divided. Proponents claiming that bilingual education is beneficial to both first language and target language, while opponents claim that teaching children using their first language is deleterious to the acquisition of the target language and that the best way to ensure that all children learn English is to immerse them in English-language classrooms. One commentator, who shall remain nameless, exemplified this position quite concisely yesterday, even before the report was released:

Two problems with [introducing bilingual education], both likely to cripple the future of the children.

First, finding teachers able to teach in indigenous languages will be fearsomely difficult, and likely to lead to language proficiency trumping any real aptitude to teach.

Second, Aboriginal students out bush must learn to speak English fluently if they are to escape their welfare ghettos and find work elsewhere. No other skill is as important to their future. Language immersion at school is critical to that.

The committee found heavily in favour of the proponents of bilingual education as the substantial evidence submitted clearly shows that rather than being deleterious, the use of the child’s first language in early childhood education had widespread benefits. Attendance rates increase when the child’s first language is used in class, children engage in the class for more sustained periods when they can understand what is being said by the teachers, and above all, competence in both languages is increased:

Incorporating Indigenous languages into the education system leads to an improvement in both Standard Australian English and Indigenous languages and can have many cultural, health and wellbeing advantages. (Section 4.158)

The commentator quoted above mentions language immersion at school as the best way to ensure that children learn English. However this is not entirely accurate. Immersion is known to be the best method for learning a language, but immersion requires to leaner to be completely surrounded by speakers of the target language, hence ‘immersion’. One monolingual English teacher in a classroom with thirty or more children speaking a different language is not immersion – not for the children anyway; it would actually be more accurate to describe it as immersion for the teacher. Bilingual, or two-way education, is the tried and tested effective means of teaching children in communities where English is not commonly heard, and ensuring that they learn the standard language.

Recommendation 14 therefore calls for the provision of adequately resourced bilingual education programs in areas where the child’s first language is an indigenous language, whether that language is a traditional language such as Warlpiri or Murrinh Patha, or a contact language such as Kriol, Gurindji Kriol or Light Warlpiri.

A corollary issue is of course the lack of indigenous teachers, and the almost complete lack of adequate training for all teachers in dealing with English as an additional language or dialect (EAL/D). This fact is often cited by the opponents of bilingual education – see above – as a key factor against its provision.

The committee agreed that bilingual education would likely fail unless this shortfall was addressed, and so recommends the development of a national framework of flexible and accessible training for Indigenous people to gain limited authority qualifications to teach, and incentives for them to do so (recommendations 16 and 17) and also, that English as an additional language/dialect becomes a compulsory component for all teaching degrees, as well as retrospectively as professional development for all teachers currently working in indigenous communities (recommendations 21 and 22).

Language testing is another crucial area that usually receives little attention. It won’t matter how well-provisioned an education system is, if the school doesn’t know what language a child speaks upon entering the education system, they will not succeed. Often, children who speak a contact language such as Kriol, are often mistaken by teachers and schools as speaking a poor form of English. The committee recommends mandatory first language assessment for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children entering the school system (recommendation 13). For most communities, I would add, most children would speak a similar language/dialect, with only a few minority cases of individuals whose family have moved, for instance.

Another significant section of the Our Land, Our Language report deals with NAPLAN. Of course, national standardised tests in Australia are conducted in English. This is obviously problematic in contexts where the children who undergo the tests do not speak or understand this language, and the test therefore becomes primarily a test in English literacy. This means that the knowledge and skills the students do have, albeit in languages other than English, are invisible to the tests. The result is that otherwise intelligent children are painted as linguistically deficient, and we see statistics such as the following (for the benefit of the reader I have inserted crucial caveats to aid the correct interpretation of the figures in square brackets):

Across Australia in 2004, 83% of Aboriginal students and 93% of students overall achieved the [English] literacy benchmark for year 3.

But in the Northern Territory, only 20% of Aboriginal students achieved the benchmark [for Standard Australian English]. Less than 30% of children tested for [English] literacy in Years 3, 5 and 7 were able to read or write [English] properly leaving them with [English] numeracy and [English] literacy skills of five-year old [Standard Australian English speakers] when they leave school.

NAPLAN testing for these children is not only pointless, but as the committee found it can also be damaging to these students and can lead to disengagement in education:

In addition to being misleading, in painting a negative portrait of learners, assessments that fail to take account of these issues impact negatively on learners’ sense of worth and ongoing engagement with formal education.

ACTA, submission 72, p. 17.

There is however, a strikingly simple way that will go some way towards fixing this. It is something that experts in the field have been saying for some years, and now it’s also the view of the parliamentary committee: the provision of alternative NAPLAN testing for students learning English as an Additional Language or Dialect (recommendation 15). In concert with a supported and well-resourced bilingual education system in the children’s first language, this would mean more accurate representation of the children’s educational development, without it being clouded by difficulties of translation.

Opponents of teaching children in their first language, at least for the first few years of primary school, often argue that:

No English means no future.

We at Fully (sic) completely agree with this opinion: without access to the standard national language, an individual, or more accurately, an entire community of people, will have no prospects beyond the cultural and linguistic borders of their community. The question is how best to ensure that these children learn English. As the report clearly states time and time again, bilingual education, i.e., teaching children for the first few years of primary school in their first language before gradually transitioning into the target language, in this case English, is the proven most effective way to do this.

It isn’t rocket science; it’s just common sense. Unless a child understands what’s going on in the classroom, they won’t engage, they won’t attend, and they won’t learn anything.

As of this morning, The Australian is reporting that both major parties have expressed their acceptance of the report’s findings and support for the recommendations, at least in principle. We ) welcome this, but urge the various governments to immediately enact these 30 recommendations, and allow the system time to function properly, and we as a nation will eventually begin to reap the multifarious benefits of an education system that is accessible to all, and does not discriminate against entire communities whose first language is not English.

Advertisements

Schools need to operate as Ethical communities

Sir Michael Barber discusses Education at this week Education Summit and says that Schools need to operate as ethical communities and learners need to get on with people from different backgrounds and should be improved so that  global education does not  change at the geographical borders.We need as teachers, schools and educationalist to teach our learners to become World Citizens.

I believe that those of us who are already embracing bilingualism and multilingualism are already embracing this and are already developing ethical communities, but those of us who are using a learners previous experiences to build on then we are further forward than most. What needs to come next is assessment and global assessment so that if you have a grade C for argument in China it means the same in the UK…a really big ask but certainly something to be working towards. He suggests that if we look towards the new video games that is how assessment will need to look in the future as that is how the children are used to learning.

Some EAL educationalist in the UK still want new arrivals to start at their starting point rather than the new arrivals starting point as it is easier for them  What we need are tools to be able to communicate with each other successfully, because in an ideal world no one no matter how clever will ever be able to learn and communicate successfully in 6000 languages, as Lord Green says ‘it is a skilful country that will succeed in the world as large, we need to equip children with life skills’.

E (K+T+L) is the equation that Michael believes everyone in Education should be working towards.  E =  the Ethical Communities, K= knowledge, T=thinking and L=leadership skills

See more of his speech at:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3ErTaP8rTA&feature=BFa&list=PL1738A19074D8CDE8&shuffle=584408

and also Jim Wynn from Promethean at

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YMcVE-u-q4U&feature=BFa&list=PL1738A19074D8CDE8&shuffle=584408

It’s not just a challenge for monolingual teachers but for bilingual teachers- USA

This article is really interesting because it highlights the problems that both  bilingual and monolingual colleagues experience, but saying that it all boils down to the same thing how can we teach our children in the best way possible. The same thing that we all want to know so that each and every child in our charge is receiving the best education we can give them.

How many Authorities in the UK have asked a parent who speaks Polish, Urdu etc to support the bilingual children and then elevated them to a position as a Teaching Assistant assuming they know how to teach the child? I have also sadly observed that in some cases the teacher then leaves the TA and the children to their own devices almost as relief because the language is a communication barrier. Is thsi really giving both the teachers and children the best! What do you think?

Here is an extract from the news article:

“Before, I felt like I was kind of in survival mode,” she explained, “just trying to get them through. It’s not just a challenge for monolingual teachers but for bilingual teachers. Just because you speak the language of a child doesn’t mean you know the strategies or best practices for teaching” them.

The rest of the article is below:

In a recent Op-Ed for the Washington Post, New America Foundation’s Maggie Severns urged states to rethink teacher preparation in light of our country’s ongoing shift to a minority-majority nation. As Severns explains, immigrant youths and the children of immigrants are among the lowest-performing groups of students in U.S. public schools, AND they will account for virtually all growth in the workforce over the next 40 years.

Severns lauds the work in Illinois, where teachers are being given special training to meet the needs of bilingual learners, something preschool teacher Christina Gomez appreciates:

“Before, I felt like I was kind of in survival mode,” she explained, “just trying to get them through. It’s not just a challenge for monolingual teachers but for bilingual teachers. Just because you speak the language of a child doesn’t mean you know the strategies or best practices for teaching” them.

This is an essential issue, and it’s great that Severns has raised it. I’ve spent all year in two DC-area schools, both of which have Spanish-immersion programs, and I’ve seen first-hand not just the challenges of supporting the needs of children who don’t yet speak English, but also the benefits of having all children learn in a biliterate environment. Different students possess different strengths and weaknesses in different settings. Brain-based research is starting to demonstrate that the benefits of being bilingual go a lot deeper than knowing another language. And the schools — and states — that are ahead of the curve are acting accordingly.

But what else can we do? We might start by heeding the advice of University of Texas professor Angela Valenzuela, a founding member of the Forum for Education & Democracy (an organization for which I served as National Director) and a leading scholar on education policy. I recall asking Dr. Valenzuela what specific policy changes she’d like to see, and here is some of what she recommended.

1.   Ensure more appropriate assessment for special education students and bilingual learners (BLLs) by underwriting efforts to develop, validate, and disseminate more appropriate assessments in the content areas for these students, and by ensuring that the law and regulations encourage assessments that are based on professional testing standards for these groups. This would include helping to develop and requiring the use of tests that are language-accessible for BLLs and appropriate for special education students, and evaluating their gains at all points along the achievement continuum. Additionally, assessments for placement for bilingual learners must occur before we devise assessment criteria for outcomes.  In order to do this, consistency in bilingual learner classification must occur.  We need a measurement classification that is sensitive to the within-group variability of bilingual learners.  This means that an initial assessment of bilingual learners must be conducted to gauge their command of both English and their native languages, mastery levels across core content areas. And we must improve monitoring of bilingual learner student progress, by establishing effective and valid methods of data collection that enables schools to monitor bilingual learners’ progress at all points of their education.  This includes tracking fluent English-proficient (FEP)-classified students to ensure that they do not require programs or services later in their academic careers.  Appropriate instructional strategies that address areas in need of improvement must be quickly addressed long before testing occurs.

2.   Strengthen supports for bilingual and Limited English Proficiency (LEP) students. Under Title III of ESEA, schools and districts are accountable for the academic achievement of bilingual learners and for enabling these students to reach English-language proficiency. However, these students face a unique set of challenges compared to other students. For example, it is difficult to generate advanced conceptual understanding from bilingual learners and LEP students when they are being tested or taught in a language in which they are not proficient. The federal government can encourage teachers, schools, and districts to provide equal education opportunities for these students by:

  • Investing in the development of fully-qualified bilingual teachers who are sensitive to language barriers and cultural differences among students and able to effectively teach bilingual and LEP students;
  • Aligning Title II and III by requiring that state local education agencies (LEA’s) demonstrate how their second language acquisition programs meet the academic and linguistic needs of bilingual learners;
  • Lifting the cap on the amount of money appropriated for preservice preparation of bilingual and English-as-a-second-language teacher candidates, combined with restoring fellowship opportunities (Title VII) for graduate study in those same areas provided in earlier versions of ESEA;
  • Encouraging states and localities to increase the pool of highly qualified bilingual teachers and personnel with expertise in working with BLLs;
  • Supporting high-quality, research-based professional development opportunities for BLL/LEP teachers;
  • Providing all staff with continuous professional development in effective practices, particularly as they apply to bilingual learners.  Teacher candidates, and those already in the profession, should be provided financial support to complete higher education coursework in ESL methodology, or equivalent professional development in sheltered instruction in the subject areas.  For those teachers already in the profession, meeting this goal should be fulfilled by the end of their second year in the classroom.
  • Supporting early school intervention programs that help prevent bilingual students from falling behind academically, and
  • Prohibiting districts and schools from testing bilingual student exclusively in English until they have become proficient in the English language.

What I appreciate about Dr. Valenzuela is her sensitivity to the ways in which we need to view bilingualism as a strength, not a weakness. That’s why she prefers the term “bilingual learner” to the more commonly used English-language learner, or ELL. The former describes the central aspiration we should have for all students. The latter describes the central deficit we see in some.

Perhaps that sounds like mere semantics; but I agree with Angela — it’s a crucial distinction, and one we should all become more attuned to if we hope to create a society worthy of, and prepared to take advantage of, its own rich diversity.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-chaltain/transforming-schools-to-m_b_1562607.html