Team TpT recently had the opportunity to connect with three Teacher-Authors who each work with students in different educational settings but who all share a common thread: helping their students gain fluency in another language. Caroline from ESL and French Resources by TeacherLocker is an emerging bilingual educator who has taught a variety of languages over the past 10 years to emerging bilingual students in a multitude of countries across a wide range of school settings and grades. Yara from ESL World Store has worked in primary grades but currently teaches English as a second language to adults at a community college. And Dyana from Biliteracy Now has taught emerging bilingual students for the past decade and currently collaborates closely with bilingual teachers and students in her role as an instructional coach.
Read on as these three educators share some of their experiences and talk about strategies they use to help their students thrive in their individual learning settings.
TpT Teacher-Authors Share Their Insight
Caroline of ESL and French Resources by TeacherLocker
Caroline has been teaching languages (French, English, Spanish, and German), and has been a TESOL Peru presenter and Languages coordinator (UK) for over a decade in England, France, China, and Peru and in various school settings (from primary to University). She holds a PGCE secondary in teaching languages from Oxford University, England along with a M.A in teaching French as a foreign language and a M.A in English literature and the TEFL.> She’s worked mainly with emerging bilingual students.
Q: What advice would you give to a new teacher working with emerging bilingual students?
A: My first piece of advice is to be empathetic and ready to change your ways of teaching. It’s important for you to put yourself in the shoes of your students. Have you ever travelled to a country whose language has nothing to do with your own? You are actually “lost in translation.” It’s the same for your students. When you’re a newcomer in a country, that is what you have to face: new language, new culture, new people. It can be very daunting. As a teacher, you can help your students by asking yourself the right questions: Where do my students come from? What are their education, social, and emotional backgrounds? How long have they been in the country? What do they already know? How strong are they in other subjects?
Another good tip would be: Do not assume your students will adapt to your ways of teaching. When I first started teaching, I realized that we tend to teach the way we learn — but that is a mistake, especially in bilingual classes. You will have to adapt to their pace and their own ways of learning, which can be tricky. In some countries, for example, the grammar-translation method is still widely spread.
Remember that you have an opportunity to be the bridge to the new country. Try to reach out to your students’ families from an early point to create efficient bonds. Doing this will help you understand their kids and the way they learn better and also point out if they have any learning difficulties. You’ll also reinforce cultural links with the community, and that is priceless.
Q: You mentioned the importance of adapting your teaching style to a student’s pace or way of learning. Can you speak a little more about this?
A: Sure. As a teacher, you can’t just walk into the classroom and hope that learning is going to happen by magic. You need to adapt every single lesson to your students’ learning styles and pace. In other words, you need to know your students pretty well in terms of learning profiles, motivation, and multiple intelligences.
So, no matter what, differentiation is key to adapting to your students’ ways of learning! There are some very useful tips that I got through reading Howard Gardner’s book Multiple intelligences: The Theory in Practice and Carol Ann Tomlinson’s book “>The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners. I’ve integrated them into my teaching routine, and they’ve made my life much easier.
For instance, when preparing a lesson, I always have three main objectives or learning outcomes in mind: One for my top students, allowing them to develop in autonomy; one for my mainstream students, and another one for my lower ability students.
Last but not least: Never underestimate the importance of collaborative work. Having your students work in pairs or small groups is precious as they can learn from each other. It is a lot of prep time, but it is worth the hard work to keep all your students on track.
Q: You noted some books you’ve found helpful in your teaching. Are there any others you’d recommend for those looking to learn more about working with emerging bilingual learners?
A: Yes, in addition to the two I mentioned, I’d also recommend Educating Emergent Bilinguals: Policies, Programs, and Practices for English Learners by Anne Kleifgen and Ofelia Garcia. And The TESOL International Association has priceless workshops and conferences that help teachers create links with each other and share great practice.
Yara of ESL World Store
Yara holds a teaching degree in primary education with a major in Psychology. She completed her TESOL masters in 2010 and also teaches ESL. Yara’s worked in primary schools teaching kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd grade and currently teaches English as a second language to adults at a community college in Sydney, Australia. She also tutors elementary-aged children. Yara’s mission is to help teachers actively pursue more effective, hands-on, and efficient ways of teaching English as a second language.
Q: What are some strategies teachers can use to help emerging bilingual students feel more comfortable in the classroom?
A: There are so many strategies to help bilingual students learn and feel comfortable in my classes. Firstly, be sure to welcome them to their new peers in a simple yet warm way. A great way to do this in a visual manner, such as on a Smartboard with their name displayed. This feeling of welcomeness is so important to help them feel included and accepted. Taking that extra step will go a long way in their learning journey.
Another strategy I find so important, which is more like a virtue really, is to have patience. You will be repeating things a lot – and that’s normal. Try to paraphrase if the students don’t understand something the first time. For me, I use paraphrasing quite a bit. I also provide some mini digital dictionaries so that students can look up new or unfamiliar vocabulary as class is going on.
I’ve also found that emerging bilingual students really love seeing things in pictures, symbols, and other visuals. So, I provide lots and lots of flashcards for them begin their English language learning journey and to learn through. I place them in a binder and get the students to match pictures to words and vice versa.
I also teach the most common vocabulary first to beginners in English language learning, as teaching the less common and more complicated words will more than likely confuse and overwhelm them. It’s important to note that when you’re using new words with emerging bilingual students, to use them in a sentence and not in isolation. Vocabulary word retention is so much higher in students who use their new vocabulary in sentences.
Finally, the most important strategy is to provide a safe, fun, and inclusive environment where students are allowed to make mistakes. One in which nobody is going to laugh at anyone else’s mistakes. This is the most important strategy to provide the best environment for optimal academic results for emerging bilinguals as they learn the English language.
Q: Could you elaborate a little more about the characteristics of an ideal environment or safe space for bilingual students to learn?
A: The ideal environment for emerging bilingual students is definitely a stress-free environment. This can mean creating a safe place for students to be able to communicate with you freely. Because the ages I’ve worked with range tremendously from PreK kids to adults, the one thing I’ve seen which has the greatest impact is the teacher acting as more of a facilitator (with student-led interaction) rather than an instructor (where there’s a large focus on talking to the students). When students feel that they can speak safely with no judgements, learning opportunities ensue. In other words, I try to make sure that students do more of the talking than I do. A great way to get emerging bilingual students to acquire the English language proficiently is to give them this opportunity to speak.
Another thing I do is I ask a lot of questions when I’m addressing the students to be sure they understand. Some emerging bilingual students may be shy to speak, so asking direct and easy questions can help them come out of their shell.
Q: You mentioned the importance of a judgement-free environment. How do you create a classroom culture or mindset where mistakes can be embraced and where it’s okay to not understand?
A: This is a tough one, especially if you work with middle and high school students. When I meet a new set of students, I’m always mindful of reminding them of common rules and etiquette. However, when it comes to making mistakes, I always make sure my students understand that mistakes are a large part of learning, that their brains develop from making mistakes. To embrace this as a mindset, I often do something where I write sentences or sight words on the board but intentionally make errors to see if my students will find them and tell me. Sometimes I’ll let my students know what I’m doing so we can make an activity out of them finding and fixing the mistakes. And when I give my students spelling tests, for example, I get their partners to mark their paper. So much learning takes place when they do this!
Q: Are there any podcasts, articles, blogs, or books that you’d recommend for people trying to learn more about teaching emerging bilingual learners?
A: Edweek.org is a great source for current teaching practices. I love the books How to Teach Speaking by Scott Thornbury and The Practice of English Language Teaching by Jeremy Harmer.
Dyana of Biliteracy Now
Dyana holds a teaching license, EC-4 bilingual, in the state of Texas. She’s taught emerging bilingual students for the past 10 years and specifically, has taught reading and writing in grades 1-4. She recently became a reading and writing instructional coach, which has allowed her to work closely with bilingual teachers and their students in a small group setting.
Q: Are there certain strategies or tools you’ve found to be most helpful for your students?
A: In my experience, I’ve learned that grade levels and classrooms don’t always look the same when they’re operating under a bilingual program. Sometimes we have to let the students decide what they’re ready for and when.
On that note, creating an environment where students feel comfortable can go a long way in helping their overall mindset. For example, giving students the time and space to socialize is a great way to help remove any stress or anxiety when applying a new language. A reality we often face as bilingual educators is the arrival of new students who might not be familiar with U.S. schools. It’s important to allow them to talk with their peers, in the language of their choice, to feel like they’re a part of your classrooms’ community. In this case, nothing says welcome like freedom.
I’ve also always been a fan of creating bilingual anchor charts with my students. Seeing the two languages on one anchor chart sends the message that both hold power and value. Plus, they make for great visuals and reference tools throughout the unit.
Q: Are there some specific steps that you take to help ease the “culture shock” of entering a U.S. classroom?
A: A smile goes a long way! I’m always mindful of making sure my students feel welcome in my classroom. Students who are not used to U.S. classrooms can be partnered with another student who is helpful and willing to guide them throughout the day. Because I normally place my students in partnerships, this isn’t something that brings extra attention to them. I also spend time with the students to get to know them and to model our rules and procedures. Additionally, I call home or schedule a parent-teacher conference to get a better understanding of their home life and go from there.
Q: Do you have advice to share for new teachers working with emerging bilingual students?
A: My advice would be to go into the profession knowing you are providing a service to students who are often unsure of what language to use and often question what language is “best.” You’re a role model to them. Therefore, pay close attention to your own bias on language. Find ways to promote both languages, without jeopardizing their first language, and help your students achieve bilingualism and biculturalism.
My second piece of advice is to look within your own campus for professional development. My hope is that your campus is rich with experienced bilingual teachers you can learn from. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! During my first three years, I learned the most by asking an experienced teacher if I could sit in on her lessons during my planning time.
Q: You mentioned paying attention to one’s own bias on language. Could you speak a little more about how you yourself do this?
A: I try to self-reflect often and analyze my own opinion on language policy. I do this by questioning my actions and thoughts when using Spanish and English in the classroom, for example. Do I have a language preference? Do I consider one language to be more important than the other? Is this something I’m passing along to my students without noticing? It’s a very complex relationship that I have to constantly work to untangle. My goal is to show my students that both languages hold value. This requires a tremendous amount of self-monitoring.
Q: And what are some ways teachers can do this — promote both languages/bilingualism in their classrooms?
A: One way to promote both languages is to celebrate them often! Sure, labeling things in both languages sends a message, but let’s take it a step further. Talk to your students about the benefits of being bilingual. Give them an opportunity to work on a project that celebrates their languages and helps them feel empowered. You can also start with something small like morning greetings. Last year, we implemented morning greetings with a bilingual twist. Students got to decide on the type of greeting and what language they wanted to use.
Q: You talked about letting students decide what they’re ready for and when. What does this look like in your classroom?
A: My students have access to both Spanish and English books. I pay close attention to what books they’re checking out of the classroom library and reading. I listen to them socialize and look through their reading and writing journals often. I give my students the freedom to answer in their preferred language when working in small groups or partnerships. My job is to pay attention to their output to see what they’re ready for. Sometimes they just need a little motivation, and sometimes they just need more time.
Q: Are there any books you’d recommend for educators working with emerging bilingual students?
A: If you’re an avid reader, I highly recommendLearning a New Land: Immigrant Students in American Society by Carola Suárez-Orozco, Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco, and Irina Todorova. This book is a case study that details the lives and experiences of 400 newly arrived children from the Caribbean, China, Central America, and Mexico. It follows the students for five years and details their experiences in U.S. schools.
Thank you Caroline, Yara, and Dyana for offering a glimpse into your teaching instruction and for demonstrating ways in which you help your students feel supported, empowered, and ready to learn.