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Supporting language learners in the classroom

Thu, April 18, 8:00 to 9:30am, Hyatt Regency, Floor: Bay (Level 1), Golden Gate

Group Submission Type: Formal Panel Session


In recent years, there has been a growing awareness of the benefits of teaching children the foundational reading skills in a language they understand (see for example Nsoh and Ababila 2013, Trudell, 2016). By learning the relationship between letters and their sounds and between printed text and spoken messages in a language they already understand, children start with a foundation of oral skills in the target language that allows them to link their new decoding skills to meaning. Obviously, learning to decode is a lot harder when children do not understand the target language and must learn the meanings of the words that they are simultaneously attempting to decode. Although ideally all children would first learn to read in a language they understand, even with the best language in education policies, for a variety of reasons it is not always possible to provide such services. Below are descriptions of some of the contexts where such language policies face challenges:
• In countries with greater language diversity, it may not be possible (financially) to develop sufficient materials for all languages so common regional languages are selected. In this scenario, some communities may be learning in a language spoken as a lingua franca in their region but that is not ever spoken in their community. This is often a bilingual situation, where the entire class speaks one language, and the language of instruction is another one. Even if the language is commonly spoken in market towns, it is important to remember the distinction between language used in interpersonal interactions and language used in academics. It is also important to recall that children who are just starting school may have had little to no exposure to a market language when they start school.
• In areas with many languages spoken in the community, such as in an urban center, there may be many home languages in one class. In this case, regardless of the language of instruction, the teacher needs tools to help students learn content in the language of instruction while building the students’ proficiency in academic use of that language of instruction. Even if students are using the language of instruction in the school yard, they need explicit instruction to develop academic language proficiency.
• Some countries teach in one single national or international language for all of formal school, but outside of schools and offices, this language may be less widely spoken. In this case, all or most of the students may be language learners for that language of instruction and, as in the other cases, they need to learn the content while they build their academic language proficiency.
• In countries with multiple languages of instruction, it is possible that teachers are posted to schools where they do not speak the language of instruction at an academic level that permits them to read and write fluently. Teachers themselves need techniques to support their use of the language of instruction and techniques for improving their own proficiency so they do not impede their students’ progress.

The challenges of the contexts above demand attention. To turn our backs on children who do not speak the language of instruction raises equity concerns, and sustainability comes with equitable opportunities for education. When students or teachers do not have the required level of competence in the language of instruction, learning outcomes are likely to suffer. If the curriculum is impossible to teach, either because children can’t learn from it or teachers cannot teach it with confidence, it won’t be taught. Language competence of students and teachers must be addressed if we want to see uptake of new methods in the short term and the sustainability of those methods in the long term. Sustainability comes with success for all students in a program that teachers can appropriate and make their own.

This panel examines how education projects have addressed the challenge of language mismatch – when the students’ and/or teachers’ languages do not fully align with the language of instruction. These are applied research presentations that describe projects’ attempts at minimizing the effects of language mismatch. We begin with a presentation on the development of oral language skills to support students learning in a new language. Next, we hear about participatory research in the Philippines which revealed how increased partnership between schools and non-dominant language communities could improve outcomes for students learning in an unfamiliar language. The third paper looks back over ten years of working in both local languages and an international language in Mali and discusses lessons learned about transition, instruction, and stakeholder involvement. The final paper is about instructional methods teachers are using to teach in Modern Standard Arabic when students are accustomed to speaking colloquial Arabic using an additive approach to language.

At the end of the panel presentations, attendees will have the opportunity to grapple with questions such as:
• How can teachers be informed by second language acquisition research to enrich their teaching practice?
• Are additional materials necessary for teaching in multilingual classrooms?
• If there are many home languages represented in one classroom, what is the best language to use as the medium of instruction?
• What is the best guidance to provide to ministries of education that are now examining their language in education policies?

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