The Perks and Perils of Peer Interaction: Creating a Classroom Where Linguistic and Social Aims Align

This month we published (Re)defining Success in Language Learning by Katie A. Bernstein. In this post the author explains the “double obligations” of peer interaction at school and how they can be turned into double opportunities.

Interaction is a critical part of learning a new language. It provides input in the new language, as well as chances to practice producing that language. For young language learners (emergent bilinguals), peer interaction is particularly important to this learning.

Peer interaction is also where young children construct their social worlds, navigating friendships and identities as students and playmates. For emergent bilingual students, peer interaction is therefore what Shoshana Blum-Kulka and colleagues (2004) called a “double opportunity space”: a place to learn language and a place to create social relationships.

But, as I explore in my new book, (Re)Defining Success in Language Learning, those double opportunities also mean double obligations. For young emergent bilinguals, it is impossible to only use peer interaction for language learning without simultaneously having to attend to the social consequences of those interactions.

The story of four-year-old Kritika, one of the students at the center of the book, illustrates the tensions this double obligation can produce. Kritika was a Nepali speaker learning English in a US prekindergarten. At the start of school, she quickly earned a classroom identity as a competent and authoritative playmate and student. (To find out exactly how she used all her communicative resources to do this, you’ll have to check out the book!) However, across the school year, Kritika made many fewer gains in vocabulary and syntax than some of her less socially and academically successful peers. I found that, for Kritika, the double obligation of peer interaction produced a double bind: Maintaining a social identity as a competent student and playmate was, as Philp and Duchesne (2008) put it, “at cross purposes” with taking the kinds of linguistic risks in interaction that support language learning.

Other researchers have also noticed this double-obligation at work. Rymes and Pash (2001) noted it for a first grader in their study, Rene, who was from Costa Rica and learning English in a US school. When Rene arrived in the school, he carefully mimicked his peers’ actions to establish a social identity as a competent student. But Rene then avoided wrestling productively with content or tricky language, so as not to “blow his cover”. Cekaite (2017) noticed a similar pattern with seven-year-old, Nok, a Thai speaker learning Swedish in school in Sweden. Nok was willing to take language risks with teachers but tried to stick to language she was confident using when talking with classmates. This strategy helped her look competent, but it also meant missing out on language learning.

What role do teachers play in creating this double bind? While teachers aren’t the only socializing force in classrooms, they are powerful shapers of the status quo. In Kritika’s classroom, her teachers often made comments connecting English to other social skills. For instance, one day, when a young emergent bilingual student named Maiya grabbed a toy from an English speaker, the teacher explained to the toy-snatching victim: ‘Maiya doesn’t speak English too good yet, so we’re gonna help her. Say, “Here, let’s share.”’ While the teacher likely meant to help the English speaker build patience and empathy for his peer, her comment also served to equate language learning with struggling socially.

So, how can teachers create classrooms where struggling with language learning doesn’t equal social and academic struggle, but is considered productive and positive?

Two ways to start:

1) Elevate the status of language learning and multilingualism: Talk about how special it is that emergent bilingual students are on their way to knowing two (or more) languages. Ask them to teach some of their languages to the class. Validate and praise students for taking linguistic risks – both emergent bilingual students and students who try out what their emergent bilingual peers are teaching the class.

2) Model productive language struggle: Work on learning the languages of the students in your class. If you already know the home language of most of your students (say, Spanish), work on learning other languages (Maya, Mam, Arabic, Somali). Model legitimate not-knowing. Model being OK with discomfort. Ask students for help. Make public mistakes and be publicly proud when those mistakes lead to learning.

It is within teachers’ power to create a classroom where peer interaction is truly a double opportunity and linguistic and social aims aren’t “at cross purposes.” Creating such a space is one key piece of supporting emergent bilingual students’ learning.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Using Linguistically Appropriate Practice by Roma Chumak-Horbatsch.

“As Diversity Grows, So Must We”: Teaching and Learning in the Multilingual Classroom

This month we published Using Linguistically Appropriate Practice: A Guide for Teaching in Multilingual Classrooms by Roma Chumak-Horbatsch. In this post the author tells us what to expect from the book.

“You can banish the mother tongue from the classroom – but you cannot banish it from students’ heads.” [1] 

Schools, early learning centres and educational programs worldwide are becoming increasingly language-rich. This means that learners in these contexts come from a variety of language backgrounds. It also means that many have little (or no) proficiency in the language of program or curriculum delivery. In response to this linguistic diversity, teachers are reviewing and rethinking their tried-and-true teaching strategies and asking the following questions:

  • What is the best way to teach learners from different language backgrounds?
  • I am not a language teacher. What do I do?
  • How do I communicate with silent newcomers?
  • How can I integrate them into the life of the classroom?
  • How can I help them learn the school language and participate in the curriculum?

This book directly addresses these questions and provides teachers with direction and concrete guidance. It builds on and extends the original Linguistically Appropriate Practice, or LAP[2], a multilingual teaching approach that upsets and challenges the traditional separation of languages, restores home languages to their rightful place as important language learning “allies”[3] and uses learners’ prior knowledge as a starting point in learning.

Here are the highlights of Using Linguistically Appropriate Practice: A Guide for Teaching in Multilingual Classroom.

  • Explains multilingual pedagogy, provides LAP basics and characterizes the LAP teacher
  • Helps readers better understand the theory-practice connection: a tree image (LAP Tree) is used to explain the link between multilingual practice and the language and learning theories that support this inclusive and open teaching approach.
  • Includes voices from the field: the numerous testimonials, journeys and classroom experiences of over 50 professionals (teachers-in-training, classroom teachers, special program teachers, school principals and a language consultant), working in language-rich schools and specialized programs in seven countries (Canada, Finland, Germany, India, Luxembourg, Iceland and Sweden) showcase how multilingual teaching plays out in real learning contexts
  • Invites teachers working in language-rich classrooms to rethink and review their current practice, shift their teaching from the local to the global and adopt Linguistically Appropriate Practice
  • Facilitates the adoption of multilingual pedagogy: the LAP guide is intended to help teachers identify, position and plan their multilingual work. Each of the six blocks of the guide includes “how to” suggestions and tips. Beginning with practice review and reflection, the LAP map guides teachers to retool their teaching, move away from monolingual practice and take the multilingual turn
  • Provides invaluable discussion about the following issues and challenges identified and raised by multilingual teachers: the “silent period”, a largely misunderstood and never-before explained behaviour of newcomer learners; engaging all children in the multilingual agenda; children’s unwillingness to use their home language in the classroom; understanding speakers of “little known” languages and partnering with families
  • Contains a treasure trove of resources: the book’s lists, websites, suggestions and ideas found in the Resources chapter and also in the Appendix will enrich and extend teachers’ multilingual agendas

This is an exciting time to be a teacher! The language richness found in schools is changing the way teaching and learning happen. It is a call for action, inviting teachers to review their current practice, discover the language richness of their learners, change their teaching direction, open their hearts and their doors to languages and transform their classrooms into multilingual hubs where the languages of all learners are seen, heard and included in the curriculum. Using Linguistically Appropriate Practice: A Guide for Teaching in Multilingual Classrooms is a teaching tool that will help teachers in this multilingual teaching adventure.

Share your multilingual journey with the author:

Roma Chumak-Horbatsch – rchumak@ryerson.ca

[1] Butzkamm, W. (2003). We only learn language once. The role of the mother tongue in FL classrooms: death of a dogma. Language Learning Journal, 28, 29-39.

[2] Chumak-Horbatsch. R. (2012). Linguistically Appropriate Practice: Working with Young Immigrant Children.  Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

[3] Butzkamm, W. (2003). We only learn language once. The role of the mother tongue in FL classrooms: death of a dogma. Language Learning Journal, 28, 29-39.

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like A Parents’ and Teachers’ Guide to Bilingualism by Colin Baker.

Summer Reads

The sun has finally come to Bristol and we’ve already published an array of exciting new books this summer, with plenty still to come! Here’s a round up of all the new titles for your summer reading list…

June

Decolonising Multilingualism

In this groundbreaking text, Alison Phipps pulls together ethical approaches to researching multilingually in contexts of pain, conflict and crisis; the position of the researcher; and the question of multilingualism and anglonormativity. It is both global and local in scale, ranging from Scotland to Ghana, Aotearoa / New Zealand to Sudan.

The Legal Recognition of Sign Languages

This book presents the first comprehensive overview of national laws recognising sign languages, their impacts and the advocacy campaigns which led to their creation. Each chapter is grounded in a collaborative writing approach between deaf and hearing scholars and activists involved in legislative campaigns.

 

Theorizing and Analyzing Language Teacher Agency

This volume examines the agency of second/foreign language teachers in diverse geographical contexts. It offers new understandings and conceptualizations through a variety of types of empirical data. It also demonstrates the use of different methodologies to analyze the multidimensional, dynamic and complex nature of language teacher agency.

Mandarin Chinese Dual Language Immersion Programs

This book discusses multiple aspects of Chinese dual language immersion programs, focusing on the Utah model. Themes include how to build a supportive classroom, the views of those involved, teacher identities, strategy use, corrective feedback, Chinese-character teaching, and the translanguaging phenomenon.

 

Critical Perspectives on Global Englishes in Asia

This book addresses the incorporation of Global Englishes into language policy and curriculum, pedagogy and assessment practices, and focuses on a wide range of geographical and language contexts. It will be of interest to policymakers, curriculum developers and practitioner-researchers in the area of English language education.

 

July

The Action-oriented Approach

This book presents the background to the current shift in language education towards action-oriented teaching and provides a theorization of the Action-oriented Approach (AoA). It contains a research-informed description of the AoA and explains its implications for curriculum planning, teaching, assessment and pedagogy.

Grammatical Profiles

This collection brings together language profiles of the Language Assessment Remediation and Screening Procedure (LARSP) from 12 languages around the world. It will be an invaluable resource for speech-language pathologists in many countries and for those wishing to analyse the grammatical abilities of clients of many linguistic backgrounds.

Using Film and Media in the Language Classroom

This book demonstrates the advantages and impact of using film and audiovisual material in the language classroom. The chapters are evidence-based and address different levels and contexts of learning around the world. It will be of interest to practising teachers as well as those on teacher training courses.

 

Profiling Learner Language as a Dynamic System

This volume sheds empirical light on Complex Dynamic Systems Theory by providing analyses of two longitudinal, interactional datasets. The individual analyses traverse the domains of morphosyntax, semantics, pragmatics and discourse. As a whole, the collection demonstrates the impact of the ecosystem on individuals’ use of language.

Objects, Bodies and Work Practice

In this volume, contributors focus on how professionals organize their embodied conduct with material objects. The book concentrates specifically on connections between ongoing courses of interaction within work practices, object materiality and mobility in space, bodily movement and manipulation of objects, and language.

 

August

Using Linguistically Appropriate Practice

This book provides an accessible guide to multilingual teaching in diverse classrooms world-wide. It is grounded in the latest research and takes a realistic approach to the challenges found in the modern school. The author argues that multilingual teaching is an option for all teachers, and that it has benefits for every child in the classroom.

Integrating Assessment into Early Language Learning and Teaching

The volume unites research and practice on integrating language learning, teaching and assessment at pre- and early school age. It provides useful case study insights for policymakers, teacher educators and researchers, and practical ideas for practitioners who wish to implement greater integration of assessment and learning in their own contexts.

Study Abroad, Second Language Acquisition and Interculturality

This book unites studies on second language acquisition and interculturality in a study abroad context, providing timely perspectives on research in each area while also exploring the interface between them. Chapters highlight innovative themes such as social networks, input matters, learner identities and study abroad in lingua franca contexts.

Voices of a City Market

This book breaks new ground in its representation of the voices of people in a superdiverse city. Poetic and compelling, it places the reader at the heart of the market, surrounded by the voices of people from all over the world. Based on four years of ethnographic research, it is a book that reimagines the conventions of ethnographic writing.

 

For more information about any of these titles or to place an order, please visit our website.