Patrice Thompson joins Paul in the second of a series of three blogs on the real world implementation of a mindset and practice. Paul and Patrice met as instructor and student at Moreland University. During the 2022-2023 school year, Patrice, fourth grade homeroom teacher and team lead at Shekou International School in Shenzhen, China, is putting her MEd thesis into practice.
The school year got off to a rocky start. Due to the strict zero COVID policy in China, Shekou International School (SIS) went online for two weeks again and the difficulty of online teaching really got to everyone. But we were able to survey students with our first questionnaire about home languages, reflecting a generally international mindset with a curiosity toward learning about other cultures. Perhaps most interestingly, a whopping 64% of fourth graders thought that only English should be spoken at our school. This is likely a reflection of the parents’ attitudes, and hopefully we can make a dent in that statistic by the end of the semester.
An anecdote: During the two weeks of online learning, I asked the students in my class to use their home language in assignments several times per week. Having front-loaded the first few weeks with the importance of a growth mindset, taking risks, and doing things that are uncomfortable, I explained that transferring knowledge between languages is beneficial for our brains. Many students challenged themselves and tried their best to use their home language in assignments, although they were unfamiliar with the concept and often did translations rather than a re-telling or reflection of their work as per my directions. One of my high-flyers, however, stuck to English in my class in everything she did. She is a Korean student (we’ll call her Solmin) who is otherwise very responsive to instructions. When Solmin’s mom emailed me asking how she could help with online learning, I brought up the point that despite my encouragement, Solmin was not using her home language as much as she could in her academic work. Her mother agreed that Solmin needed to use home language at school. “Absolutely, I agree with your comments. Having lived in China since six years old, she seems to lack her home language. Solmin is using only home language at home [and not at school, until now in this particular class]. I don’t think this was enough.”
This anecdote shows me (1) it is clear, as anticipated, that the students in my class have a lack of practice (and understanding about!) using their mother tongue to support second language acquisition. However, I am encouraged because (2) there is a clear willingness in some parent community members to see more support of the home language in school.
It is exciting that I was also able to lead training about translanguaging at a recent upper primary weekly meeting. The student support team was leading a professional development on scaffolding, so I asked the team leader if I might give an introduction to translanguaging. She was happy to give me some time. All homeroom teachers, specialists, and TAs took part, and I got to share my big points of translanguaging, broken down as simply as I could:
- Translanguaging is possible and a great option, even in a school in which student output is usually in English. Input and processing are two great opportunities to utilize home language as a resource.
- There is scientific evidence that a strong home language is associated with stronger target language acquisition.
- Translanguaging is promoted by our school language policy and is a part of the PYP, so we should be doing it.
- Implementing translanguaging into the design of a unit or lesson plan does not necessarily require extra time or resources. It just requires a bit more intentionality and a mindset shift.
- Language inclusivity is important. If we model it, the students will follow suit. If we want to raise global citizens, this is one of the key aspects of that goal.
As we wrap up our unit and fourth grade teachers and students settle into the rhythm of the school year, we have a few learning engagements and thinking routines planned that will hopefully integrate more home language use. However, for the next unit, I hope to push my team more with whole-grade activities that incorporate home language. Hopefully there won’t be another lockdown, at least not this semester. It tends to lower morale!
It’s now time to push into the second unit for the year, Where We Are in Place and Time. Fourth graders at SIS are starting to learn about migration, how it happens, why it happens, and what the consequences are. This will be an excellent opportunity to bring in cross-cultural and cross-linguistic histories and studies, and hopefully we can also utilize parent resources as well.
There seems to be an interest among the staff in learning more about the implementation of translanguaging. When given the opportunity recently to sign up for one of four workshops across the upper primary, one-third of the staff signed up for the session on translanguaging. We had some great conversations about how translanguaging can look different according to a student’s age, language ability, and how many other speakers there are in the class with the same home language. I loved the energy in the room – and I think this is what international teaching is all about: it’s teachers who are passionate about an international environment, coming together to bring our international enthusiasm to our students!
The workshop got me thinking. My students have heard me ask them to bring their home language into the classroom, but I haven’t had a long talk with them about it. They’re the ones we’re doing this for, so why not bring the workshop to them? I decided that I will take a modified version of the workshop I gave to the SIS faculty members and do it again, but with the students. This grade four translanguaging workshop is on my plan for introducing Unit 2 soon, in order to help students bring their home language into the classroom. Hopefully the students’ acceptance and energy for the home language, as it grows, will reverberate in home and result in an evolution in attitudes of parents, too.
We’ll let you know how it goes in our third, and final, blog about this project.