Three decades working with language learner autonomy

5 September 2017

This month we are publishing Language Learner Autonomy by David Little, Leni Dam and Lienhard Legenhausen. In this post the authors reflect on three decades’ work in the field.

Learner autonomy entails that learners are fully involved in planning, implementing and evaluating their own learning. We were first introduced to the concept in the 1980s. For Leni Dam it offered a way of responding to the challenge of differentiation in teaching and learning at school; for Lienhard Legenhausen and David Little it was a prerequisite for successful self-access language learning at university. Our collaboration of almost three decades, however, has focused on classroom learning. Leni and Lienhard have used empirical techniques to explore the outcomes of autonomous language learning and compare them with the outcomes achieved by learners working with a ‘communicative’ textbook; while David has been concerned to derive pedagogical principles from successful practice to facilitate replication in other contexts.

Although learner autonomy has been a focus for innovation in language education for almost forty years, it’s equally relevant to other areas of the curriculum. In our view its operationalization entails that learner self-management and reflective learning are exercised and further developed via ‘practice’ appropriate to the curriculum subject in question. In a language classroom, practice means use of the target language as the preferred medium of communication and reflection. Under guidance from their teacher, autonomous language learners use the target language from the beginning to plan, implement and evaluate their learning. Writing plays an indispensable role: learning is documented in logbooks and portfolios, and this supports use of the oral language and facilitates reflection on the process and content of learning.

It is sometimes assumed that learner autonomy is concerned exclusively with individual learning, but this is a misunderstanding. All effective classroom learning is based on interactive communication; what makes the autonomy classroom different is the fact that, by definition, the learners have equal right of access to all discourse roles, initiating as well as responding. Our experience leads us to define the autonomy classroom as a self-generating and self-maintaining community of practice whose members develop proficiency by using the target language to manage their own learning individually and collaboratively. This means that they devise their own learning materials and produce a wide variety of creative texts – stories, poems, plays, and reports on projects of many different kinds.

Some years ago, Leni asked a class of 15-year-olds, ‘After four years of learning English, how would you assess your overall progress?’ This is what one girl wrote (transcribed without correction):

“I already make use of the fixed procedures from our diaries when trying to get something done at home. Then I make a list of what to do or remember the following day. That makes things much easier. I have also via English learned to start a conversation with a stranger and ask good questions. And I think that our “together” session has helped me to become better at listening to other people and to be interested in them. I feel that I have learned to believe in myself and to be independent.”

Clearly, in four years this learner has acquired a proficiency in English that extends her communicative and reflective capacity and with it her identity. Her facility in writing implies that English is a fully integrated part of her developing plurilingual literacy.

The autonomy classroom shares fundamental pedagogical principles with inclusive education. It is thus not surprising that autonomous learning succeeds with students whose learning difficulties might cause them to fail in more traditional pedagogical settings. We have also found that learner autonomy empowers adult refugees learning the language of their host community; and that when primary pupils from immigrant families are encouraged to use their home languages in the classroom (even though their teacher may not understand them), this not only helps them come to grips with curriculum content but also gives them an interest in taking autonomous learning initiatives.

Everything we have written about learner autonomy over the past thirty years or so has taken successful practice as its starting point, and we have always believed that learner autonomy is first a pedagogical imperative and only secondly a fertile research topic. Aimed at student teachers, teacher educators and language learning researchers, our book will have served its purpose if it encourages more language teachers to embrace the principles of learner autonomy and find ways of implementing them in their classrooms.

For more information about this book please see our website. If you found this interesting, you might also enjoy Managing Diversity in Education edited by David Little, Constant Leung and Piet Van Avermaet.


Why use mixed methods in early language learning research?

27 July 2017

This month we published Early Language Learning edited by Janet Enever and Eva Lindgren, the first book in our new series, Early Language Learning in School Contexts. In this post the editors discuss the use of mixed methods in their research.

Understanding how young children learn additional languages in classroom environments is complex. Children learn how to speak, interact, read and write with help from teachers, peers and parents. The surrounding world, as well as themselves, influences their motivation to learn, their self-concept and their attitudes, all of which are important for their learning of an additional language. This wide range of factors with the potential to impact on children’s learning presents serious challenges to traditional research methods. For example, can a qualitative study of say, the oral language production of four children in a few lessons provide us with any clarity as to how young children in general learn additional languages at school? Similarly, can a quantitative study of the oral language production of a whole cohort of children learning an additional language at school provide us with a nuanced understanding of how development for each individual child occurs? Both set-ups could include a variety of factors, in depth analyses in the qualitative approach and advanced statistical methodologies in the quantitative approach, but regardless of which approach is taken, it seems likely that neither will provide very satisfactory answers. For these reasons and many more, we have become interested in adopting a mixed methods approach to our research, with the idea that it might provide a more comprehensive view of how language learning unfolds in classroom environments.

As a theoretical frame, mixed methods research (MMR) is regarded as relatively new, although there is evidence of research approaches that have adopted some form of ‘mixing’ for centuries (Maxwell, 2016). Given current developments in the field, it is unsurprising that views differ on exactly how MMR might be conceptualised. However, recent understandings seem to be moving towards the idea that it can be understood as bringing together all dimensions ‘as an over-arching concept (…) at the philosophical, methodological, and methods levels’ (Fetters & Molina-Azorin, 2017, p.293). Arguing for a framework of integration, they propose an ‘MMR integration trilogy’ outlining the possible dimensions that may be integrated, including: the philosophical, theoretical and researcher positioning; the rationale, aims, data collection and analysis dimension; the approaches to interpretation, dissemination and research integrity. Their suggestion is that if researchers are attentive to all dimensions then ‘more advanced and sophisticated mixed methods studies’ will result (p.303).

As researchers interested in working with MMR we recognise that we are a long way from addressing such a strongly integrated approach at the outset of framing our research plans. Indeed, it may well be that a more fluid approach which allows for the emergence of some form of mixing during the research process may allow for greater creativity in some instances. The variety of research studies contained in our edited volume Early Language Learning reflect a good proportion of the approaches to MMR currently in use in the field of early language learning. As such, we hope they set the bar for future exploration of this research paradigm that may help to clarify whether a more strongly integrated approach to this field of research can contribute to an enhanced quality of research.

References

Fetters, M.D. & Molina-Azorin, J.F. (2017). The Mixed Methods Research Integration Trilogy and Its Dimensions. Journal of Mixed Methods Research, 11(3) 291–307.

Maxwell, J.A. (2016) Expanding the History and Range of Mixed Methods Research. Journal of Mixed Methods Research 10(1), 12–27.

For more information about this book, please see out website. The editors have also produced a video in which they introduce their book, which can be watched here. If you found this interesting, you might also like Learning Foreign Languages in Primary School edited by María del Pilar García Mayo.


Language, Identity and Education on the Arabian Peninsula

17 November 2016

This month we are publishing Language, Identity and Education on the Arabian Peninsula edited by Louisa Buckingham. In this blog post, Louisa explains more about the background to the book and the complex language situation on the Arabian Peninsula.

Qasr Al Sarab © Sarah Hopkyns

Qasr Al Sarab © Sarah Hopkyns

The nations on the Arabian Peninsula are home to increasingly urban, networked, ethnically and linguistically heterogeneous societies. Their youthful demography, and the relatively elevated levels of population growth provide impetus to an expanding education sector. The high proportion of foreign recruited employees in the secondary and particularly in the tertiary sectors, provides domestic students with exposure to diverse cultures and languages during their formal education. Complementing this, government scholarship schemes enable many Gulf Arab graduates opportunities for immersion in foreign cultures and languages while pursuing a higher degree. These factors contribute to a widespread appreciation of the role of foreign languages for academic and professional purposes. While English has for decades occupied a privileged position in education and administrative professional contexts, the extensive use of Asian languages, in addition to Arabic and English, in street commerce encounters, in professional activities related to technology, infrastructure and logistics, and the health sector, reflects the multilingual and multi-ethnic profile of the region’s demography.

Signage in Oman (Languages: Arabic, English, Bengali, Urdu, Hindi, Malayalam). ©Louisa Buckingham

Signage in Oman (Languages: Arabic, English, Bengali, Urdu, Hindi, Malayalam). © Louisa Buckingham

As contributors to this volume, we have observed the role and the reception of foreign languages in the lives of our students over many years. We continue a nascent tradition in book-length studies on the Arabian Peninsula which take a critical view of the status of English in educational contexts and professional lives, and we extend previous work by documenting the importance of Asian languages in public and private spheres.

Language, Identity and Education on the Arabian PeninsulaFour main themes run through the book. The opening theme explores the multilingual nature of many households and the different spheres of use assigned to particular languages experienced in the domestic domain. In many homes, the presence of domestic migrant workers (employed to perform the duties of drivers, gardeners, household help and nannies) contributes to an early awareness among young Gulf Arab nationals of their linguistically and culturally diverse communities and, in some cases, provides opportunities for second language acquisition in early childhood. Gender roles may influence the degree to which oral proficiency is developed in particular languages. For instance, as interaction with South Asian labourers and tradesmen is more typically undertaken by males in the household, these may develop a degree of oral competence in particular South Asian languages. Less well-known is the influence of South Korean cultural production. The popularity of Korean soap operas and pop music among some young Gulf Arab females has prompted the inclusion of Korean words or phrases into in-group talk among peers.

The subsequent two themes in the volume are devoted to issues regarding identity construction and academic achievement in sectors of Gulf Arab societies which have strongly promoted English-medium education. The early introduction of English immersion has sometimes come at the expense of Arabic. The perceived neglect or marginalization of Arabic has sparked much public debate in the media.

On the wall of a university in the UAE. © Sarah Hopkyns

On the wall of a university in the UAE. © Sarah Hopkyns

The assimilation of English as an additional language into the linguistic repertoire of many educated Gulf Arabs, and the widespread daily exposure to South Asian varieties of English, means that the wholesale adoption of English language assessment systems which were devised primarily for usage in inner-circle country educational or professional contexts, is problematic. Such proficiency examinations not only include cultural references which may not be readily comprehended by test takers in the Gulf Arab context, but they also often require a form of engagement with texts that is not necessarily commonly practised in the domestic educational context.

The final theme in this volume concerns the role of English as a transmitter of cultural practices in teaching and research careers. The promotion of international study opportunities facilitates the exposure to a wide range of pedagogical traditions; however, Gulf Arab students may experience the need to critically evaluate the degree to which assimilated practices may be applicable in their domestic teaching contexts. In the final study, we examine how international mainstream scholarly journal publishing practices have been adapted to an Omani context to support a culture of research and inquiry in the region, and facilitate the international visibility of local researchers.

Contributions come from five countries on the Arabian Peninsula: Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Yemen. All studies were specifically undertaken with a view to their inclusion in this volume. Both quantitative and qualitative research traditions are represented and the methodological approaches used to document language practices encompass interviews, focus groups and surveys, policy analysis and linguistic landscape methodology.

Louisa Buckingham, University of Auckland

Qasr Al Sarab. © Sarah Hopkyns

Qasr Al Sarab. © Sarah Hopkyns

The Status of English in Bosnia and HerzegovinaFor more information on the book, please see our website. You might also be interested in Louisa’s previous book The Status of English in Bosnia and Herzegovina.


An Interview with the Series Editors of CAL Series on Language Education

10 November 2016

Next month we are publishing the first book in our CAL Series on Language EducationEnglish Language Teaching as a Second Career by Sarah J. Shin. To introduce the new series and explain more about its aims, we asked the series editors, Terrence G. Wiley, M. Beatriz Arias and Joy Kreeft Peyton, a few questions.

English Language Teaching as a Second CareerFor those who don’t already know, what is CAL and what do you do?
The Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) is a nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, DC. We were founded in 1959 by noted linguist Charles A. Ferguson. Our mission is to promote language learning and cultural understanding, and we serve as a trusted resource for research, services, and policy analysis. The CAL team includes a cadre of scholars, researchers, and practitioners that focus on solutions to issues involving language and culture as they relate to access and equity in education and society around the globe.

What are the aims of the CAL Series on Language Education?
CAL wants to make high-quality, research-based resources on language learning, instruction, and assessment widely available to inform teacher classroom practices, enhance teacher education, and build background knowledge for university students across a wide range of disciplines.

Who is the audience for the series?
Educators, in the classroom or in training, as well as students in applied linguistics and other language-related fields.

How does the series differ from other series on language education?
CAL believes it can offer a comprehensive look at language education based on our decades of experience in conducting research into how language is learned and applying this knowledge to make information and resources available for educators and practitioners.

How did the idea for the series come about?
In thinking about the wealth of research-based knowledge and practical information CAL has developed over the decades, we wanted to find a purposeful way to share this knowledge. Working with our colleagues at Multilingual Matters to develop this book series was the perfect solution for our desire to disseminate information more broadly.

What topics will be covered in the series?
CAL plans to cover a wide range of topics including approaches to language instruction and assessment, approaches to content instruction and assessment for language learners, professional development for educators working with language learners, principles of second language acquisition for educators, and connections between language policy and educational practice.

calfullstackedblack
What made you choose Multilingual Matters as a publisher to partner with and how will CAL and Multilingual Matters work together on this series?
This was an easy choice for CAL. We have a long-standing relationship with the team at Multilingual Matters and are pleased that many of our staff are published authors under the Multilingual Matters banner. Our two organizations also have similar core values, believing that languages and cultures are important individual and societal resources, that multilingualism is beneficial both for individuals and for societies, and that effective language education should be widely available.

What are your own personal research interests and how will these be incorporated into the series?
CAL’s research interests focus on a wide range of topics connected to language and culture and include policy, instruction, and assessment. We have a long-standing interest in research on language education and promoting equity and access for language learners, with a special interest in programs that promote additive bilingualism. This series provides a natural outlet for our interests and priorities.

For more information about the series please see our website. You can also visit CAL’s website for more information about their other work.


Exploring the essence of content and language integration

23 August 2016

This month we published Conceptualising Integration in CLIL and Multilingual Education edited by Tarja Nikula, Emma Dafouz, Pat Moore and Ute Smit. In this post, the editors explain how the book came together.

Conceptualising Integration in CLIL and Multilingual EducationThis book is concerned with the educational practice in which a language other than the students’ first language is used as the language of instruction. The main entry point is content and language integrated learning (CLIL), a form of education which has been popular in Europe since the 1990s and is now gaining ground globally. When looking at existing research on CLIL, it is clear that the interest has mainly been directed towards the effects of CLIL on learning, especially on target language learning. In this book, we argue that more attention needs to be paid to content and language integration, which is, after all, a core concern in CLIL. It needs to be better conceptualised and problematised to provide – among the heterogeneity of forms of implementation of CLIL and other types of bi- and multilingual education – guidelines for practitioners to support the simultaneous teaching and learning of content and language.

This book consists of 11 chapters. It is the outcome of a project called Language and content integration: towards a conceptual framework (ConCLIL) based at the University of Jyväskylä, funded by the Academy of Finland, in which researchers from Finland, Austria, Spain, the UK and Canada joined forces to come to a better understanding of integration. The ConCLIL project involved us continuously discussing, debating and exploring what we mean by integration and realising in the process that such discussions often lead to challenging and questioning the often taken-for-granted notions of language, content and their learning. The opportunity for dialogue and collaboration that the project provided through team members’ research visits to Jyväskylä has been highly valuable, and we hope that some of the sense of this dialogue is also reflected in the volume. Our first face-to-face meeting as the ConCLIL team took place in Jyväskylä in February 2012, in our woollen socks due to the -29°C winter coldness outside. Since then, we have read, discussed and commented on each other’s chapters in several meetings and have learned a lot in the process.

Staying warm in the first team meeting. Photo by Pat Moore.

Staying warm in the first team meeting. Photo by Pat Moore.

The main message conveyed by the volume is the need to recognise the complexity of integration both in research and practice and to escape the duality of content and language as separable entities. In other words, integration is not a matter of neat binaries and distinctions but a multi-layered web of influences, something akin to the interlacing woollen threads depicted on the cover of the book. Because of its complexity, integration has implications at various levels of educational practice. In this volume, we focus on three interconnected perspectives, those of a) curriculum and pedagogic planning, b) participant perspectives and c) classroom practices. The first refers to decisions that need to be made on what will be integrated (which subjects), and with what aims, and also to the teachers’ need to have conceptual tools to plan integrated teaching. The second orientation highlights how the realisation of any plan is highly dependent on stakeholders’ beliefs and perceptions. For example, a crucial consideration for both research and practice is how CLIL teachers’ views of their role as content and language teachers are informed by their conceptualisations of language and content. Thirdly, integration is eventually a matter of in-situ classroom practices that entail varied opportunities to address content and language interdependence either implicitly or explicitly. We need more knowledge of such processes to understand integration better and to realise it in pedagogical practice.

It is obvious that the relevance of content and language integration goes well beyond CLIL. It is central in all forms of bi- and multilingual education, whether called immersion, content-based instruction or CLIL. Such contexts where an additional language is used in instruction may highlight the importance of content and language integration, yet is equally relevant for all education because knowledge construction and display are always both content and language matters.

CLIL in Higher EducationFor further information on this book, please see our website. You might also be interested in our other volume on this topic, CLIL in Higher Education by Inmaculada Fortanet-Gómez.


New series: Early Language Learning in School Contexts

10 March 2016

We are pleased to announce our new book series Early Language Learning in School Contexts edited by Janet Enever. In this post, Janet introduces her new series and explains how she sees the series developing.

Series flyer - click to enlarge

Series flyer – click to enlarge

With the launch of this new series we focus on young children learning additional languages in school and preschool settings worldwide. The series provides an opportunity to bring together research on second, foreign and minority languages where these are introduced for children aged 3-12 years in schools.

In the 21st century the provision of additional languages at an increasingly early age has become the norm in most developed countries and is now reaching the policy agendas of low-economy countries as well. Inevitably, given such rapid expansion, research initiatives have tended to lag behind, sometimes resulting in a lack of understanding of the challenges of the implementation process both by policymakers and schools themselves. With the establishment of this international series we hope to provide a platform for research in early language learning to be positioned as a distinctive area for investigation, offering new insights for many transnational themes and contributing to building a more robust procedure for the establishment of research-evidenced policy implementation processes.

In this series we hope to include themes such as the nature of progress, motivation and outcomes in early language learning; examples of policy implementation across a variety of contexts; teacher development and approaches to classroom teaching and learning; curriculum themes and cultural awareness; varied models of provision and assessment and a consideration of research methodologies appropriate to the study of young children learning languages in school settings. This list offers just a hint of the areas that would benefit from substantial research in many parts of the world. As the series grows we hope to draw together a comprehensive body of research across a range of languages, clarifying the contribution that schools are able to make to the development of young children’s multilingual competencies and multiple cultural identities.

For more information about the new series please see our website. Proposals should be sent to Laura Longworth, Commissioning Editor. You can also download a flyer for the series here.


How are refugees’ experiences shaped by language and policy?

19 January 2016

In December we published Refugee Resettlement in the United States edited by Emily M. Feuerherm and Vaidehi Ramanathan. In this post, Emily introduces the main themes of the book and examines the discourse of refugee resettlement in the US.

The plight of refugees and asylum seekers has been making headlines for the past couple of years. In the summer of 2014, the unprecedented number of unaccompanied Central American minors crossing the Southern US border reignited the moral panic about ‘illegal’ immigration and the validity of asylum cases. In 2015, images and stories of Syrian refugees fleeing a violent war in their home country was juxtaposed against receiving countries’ attitudes towards this vulnerable, displaced population.

Refugee Resettlement in the United StatesThe US is geographically removed from many of the effects of the wars in the Middle East, and so has seen fewer refugees and asylum seekers from this region than Europe has over the past year. Nevertheless, the recent terrorist attacks in Paris pushed US politicians and policy makers to redouble their concern over borders and migrants, particularly focusing on refugees and asylum seekers from Syria, Yemen and other Middle Eastern countries. Now, politicians are calling for a ban (or at least more stringent background checks) on refugees being accepted from the Middle East, while at the same time there is a surge in raids identifying and deporting Central Americans seeking asylum in the US.

With all of these discourses around refugee resettlement, this volume uncovers and critically analyzes the language, policies and pedagogies that contextualize refugees’ experiences in the US. The volume brings together researchers from several fields within the social and educational sciences with original research on the state of refugees in the US. Although several of the chapters are situated in specific geographical locations, their insights elucidate the contested nature of the language, policies, and pedagogies that position refugees and asylum seekers within (and outside of) our society.

The language around refugeehood is explored in several contexts in this volume: the use of refugee, alien and immigrant in US media compared to the Immigration and Nationality Act (chapter 2); the various ways that the word refugee is appropriated or rejected by populations to which it is ascribed (chapter 3); and the discursive construction of refugees used by organizations responsible for their resettlement (chapter 9). Educational policies are also discussed at many scales: national and state educational policies directed specifically to refugees (chapter 4); higher education policies meant to support refugee background students (chapter 7); and local classroom policies in an elementary school English Language Development class (chapter 8). The chapters on pedagogies of teaching refugee adults highlights the need for building upon refugees’ strengths at the programmatic (chapter 5) and individual levels (chapter 10), as well as critically examining refugees’ “need” for English (chapter 6).

Ramanathan titlesYou can find more information about the book on our website. You might also be interested in Vaidehi’s other books on refugees: Language Policies and (Dis)Citizenship and Language, Immigration and Naturalization.


Early Learning and Teaching of English

24 March 2015

Earlier this month we published Early Learning and Teaching of English edited by Jelena Mihaljević Djigunović and Marta Medved Krajnović. Here, Jelena gives us some background to the book.

Early Learning and Teaching of EnglishThe five year project, which the book Early Learning and Teaching of English: New Dynamics of Primary English is based on, was very stimulating and highly revealing for our team about all aspects of the phenomenon we were investigating. The key findings are reported in the book, but there were many behind-the-scene events which are not included but the members of our research team will remember fondly for a long time. For example, through our annual oral interviews with the young participants we witnessed the changes not only in their attitudes to learning EFL but also in the ways they expressed them. Thus, I still remember vividly how one young participant’s answers to my question about why English was his favourite school subject changed each year: in Grade 1 the learner simply said ‘I don’t know, I just like it‘; in Grade 2 he claimed it was because learning English was fun; in Grade 3 he explained he liked it ‘because we play, and learn how to read in English‘; while in Grade 4 he looked at me in surprise and retorted: ‘Why not?’

Our regular classroom observations, which took place several times a year, provided valuable information about the EFL classroom processes and also showed that we were welcome guests each time we came; the children actually looked forward to our visits and, according to their teachers, often asked when we would come again. The project teachers repeatedly urged us to assess their teaching although we had explained that we were not supposed to ‘influence’ their teaching while the project was going on: they were really eager to use every opportunity to improve their teaching skills!

What motivated us to undertake yet another project in the early EFL field? Well, we thought that comprehensive and longitudinal research of early EFL learning and teaching was needed for at least four reasons. First, the status of English has changed in the last few decades and we believed that some of the basic issues had to be reconsidered. Second, the increased exposure of many young learners nowadays to English in everyday life has changed the role of classroom teaching, causing out-of-class language exposure to feature as an important factor which researchers as well as practising teachers need to take account of. Third, teachers to young learners have changed too; we believed that their increasing knowledge about the impact they have on early learning processes need to be incorporated into our understanding of what goes on in early EFL learning and teaching. Fourth, the number of stakeholders who make key decisions about early learning of English has risen too, with parents taking on a particularly strong role. All these recent developments have created what we came to consider a new dynamic of primary English which warranted close investigation.

The book Early Learning and Teaching of English reports on the findings of our longitudinal, multi-methods research which contextualises early EFL learning at various levels to create ‘the big picture’.

Our ultimate aim was to design a research-informed framework which could serve as the basis for early EFL learning and teaching appropriate for the new, digitised generations of primary learners. This meant that we looked into:

  • evidence of EFL development in primary learners (age 6-14) in regular institutional contexts
  • affective, cognitive, social and linguistic characteristics of young learners
  • classroom-based factors
  • relevant characteristics of the broader context

I hope readers of our book will find it interesting, informative and stimulating reading.

Jelena Mihaljević Djigunović, coeditor
jdjigunovic@gmail.com

For further information about the book please see our website or contact Jelena at the email address above.


The Future of K-12 Teaching is Content-Based Instruction

5 March 2015

This week we published Kate Mastruserio Reynolds’ book Approaches to Inclusive English Classrooms which attempts to bridge the gap between theory and practice to prepare teachers for the needs of English language learners (ELL). In this post, she gives us some background to the book.

“Greetings all, I am the ESL Department chair at NAME High School in CITY, TX, which is located in the largest refugee neighborhood in the city. Our current enrollment is 61% ELL, but we expect to be more than 70% ELL next year, so we are looking to expand our team. We have a diverse mix of students from all over South Asia, Africa, and Latin America, many with limited or interrupted schooling. We are looking specifically for TESOL or CELTA certified teachers with experience teaching teens or adults, and ideally with experience teaching English for Academic Purposes or for Specific Purposes, as most of our ESL classes are content support classes (English for Science, English for Math, etc.).”

This job announcement posted today on a jobs list might sound like gibberish for many pre-service educators or teachers just entering the job market. The knowledge of English as a second language (ESL) that inform this advert start with the acronyms, ESL, ELL, TESOL, CELTA and advance to ‘English for Academic Purposes and for Specific Purposes’ and ‘ESL classes are content support classes (English for Science, English for Math, etc.)’ Although this position is for an ESL specialist, increasingly content area educators (i.e. teachers of Math, Sciences, Social Studies/History, Literature and Language Arts) are called upon to work with learners whose first language is not English.

Approaches to Inclusive English ClassroomsBy 2050, US national statistics indicate that English language learners (ELLs) will be the majority of learners in the US K-12 public schools. Not only are many educators not adequately prepared for this change in the demographics of our school system, neither is our teacher preparation system. Pre-service teachers, those in the process of gaining teacher licensures at universities, rarely are provided any information or training on the ELLs they will encounter in their professional work. Many in-service teachers are confronted by this lack of preparation and need to gain more professional preparation in the field of ESL in order to sufficiently meet the unique linguistic needs of the second language learners.

It is not an easy fix. There is a lot to ‘sufficiently meet the unique linguistic needs’ of second language learners. Teachers cannot simply make one change to their instruction, like using cooperative learning, in order to scaffold instruction for ELLs. First, teachers need to be aware of how they communicate with students. They need to become culturally knowledgeable about the learners’ cultures and strive to make their own speech comprehensible to the language learners. Second, they need to be able to teach the skills of language—speaking, listening, reading and writing—as well as grammar and vocabulary. I’m not talking about the traditional grammar translation method here either. Teachers need to be savvy in their use of time to situate grammar into the content material they are teaching. For example, they need to teach how to write using regular past tense (–ed form) when describing the accomplishments of ancient China in Social Studies class.

Several models and methodologies to approaching the instruction of ELLs have emerged in the field of ESL/EFL, called content-based instruction (CBI). All these models (CALLA, SIOP, RtI, etc.) focus on various ways to engage ELLs and teach them content and language simultaneously. No one method is a cure all. All of them have their advantages and drawbacks. Some of them were developed for specific contexts and populations, such as the ExC-ELL model that emphasizes academic literacy for a non-native speaking population who have strong oral proficiency skills in English. Knowing which methods to employ and when with which population is one way that I would like to empower K-12 educators.

My book, Approaches to Inclusive English Classrooms: A Teacher’s Handbook for Content-Based Instruction, addresses these issues and more in a practical way that provides insight for pre-service and in-service teachers on teaching ELLs effectively.

If you would like more information about Kate’s book please see our website.


Multilingualism in education is on the agenda

19 September 2014

Jean Conteh and Gabriela Meier’s book The Multilingual Turn in Languages Education is out this month. They have written this post about how the book came together and the importance of multilingual education. 

The Multilingual Turn in Languages EducationThe origins of this book emerged about 3 years ago in discussions about the different ways in which multilingualism was being talked about, not just in research, but in the lived experiences of people around the world. As editors, we both noticed that there was increasing interest in multilingualism in education – we refer to this new trend as the multilingual turn in languages education. We use languages in the plural to show that we are thinking about individuals’ whole language repertoires as resources for teaching and learning, not just the ‘target language’ of teaching.

A new era has started – Multilingual Matters setting the agenda

Our new book offers an invitation, including some guidelines and ideas, for teachers, researchers and policymakers to consider multilingualism in a new light as a key item on their agenda. The ideas underpinning the book began to be discussed around 20-30 years ago, when some authors started to recognise that monolingual language practices in schools can disadvantage many learners. During that period, Multilingual Matters was founded in 1976 and has since played an important role in influencing and shaping what people in their different spheres, including ourselves, talk about and what they deem important, i.e. what goes on the agenda.

The multilingual turn: ideology, theory, pedagogy

While the multilingual turn offers many opportunities, there are, of course, still many challenges before ideas can be put into practice in classrooms. As we and the authors in this book suggest, there are many positive ways in which this can happen. The opportunities and challenges are explored in the three parts of our book by taking into account the multiple layers of society, policy and classroom practice – all embedded in and informed by research.

First, in part one, we consider prevailing ideologies and language hierarchies, for instance about which languages have status and are therefore seen as useful, which languages are ignored and why and what the implications may be for individuals and groups. Then, through the chapters in part two, we argue the need for a theoretical basis for multilingual approaches to education. Finally, in part three, we show, through presenting different examples of innovative classroom practice, how educators in every situation need to find their own ways of taking account of their local circumstances and their learners’ resources.

Thanks to everyone

Gabriela visiting the office

Gabriela visiting the office

We are very grateful to Multilingual Matters, and Viv Edwards (see her recent blog post here) for supporting our book project. It was a pleasure working with you all! Furthermore, we were very lucky to find authors working across the world (Australia, Greek-Cyprus, Mauritius, China, France, Germany, USA, Switzerland, UK and Europe more generally) who embraced the idea of the multilingual turn. Their contributions present research from very varied teaching contexts and cover TESOL, EAL, SLA, MFL and two-way bilingual immersion. Thanks to you all, we were even able keep to our initial timetable!

Many thanks again to all at Multilingual Matters, all our authors and everyone who contributed to this book. We hope that through this book some ideas may make it from the agenda into practice.

For further information about this book please see our website.


%d bloggers like this: