How training can prepare teachers for diversity in their classrooms


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Maureen Robinson, Stellenbosch University

Teachers have been shaping lives for centuries. Everyone remembers their favourite (and of course their least favourite) teachers. This important group of people even has its own special day, marked each October by the United Nations.

Teachers are at the coal face when it comes to watching societies change. South Africa’s classrooms, for instance, look vastly different today than they did two decades ago. They bring together children from different racial, cultural, economic and social backgrounds. This can sometimes cause conflict as varied ways of understanding the world bump up against each other.

How can teachers develop the skills to work with these differences in productive ways? What practical support do they need to bring the values of the Constitution to life in their classes?

To answer these questions, my colleagues and I in the Faculty of Education at Stellenbosch University have put together four examples from modules within our faculty’s teacher education programme. These ideas are by no means exhaustive; other institutions also tackle these issues. What we present here is based on our own research, teaching and experience and is open to further discussion.

1. Working with multilingualism

English is only South Africa’s fifth most spoken home language. Teachers must remember this: even if their pupils are speaking English in the classroom, their home languages may be far more diverse.

Trainee teachers can benefit enormously from a course on multilingual education. In our faculty, for instance, students are given the chance to place multilingual education in a South African policy framework. They model multilingual classroom strategies like code switching and translation. They visit schools to observe how such strategies are applied in the real classroom. Students then report back on whether this approach helps learners from different language backgrounds to participate actively in the lesson.

There’s also great value in introducing student teachers to the notion of “World Englishes”. This focuses on the role of English in multilingual communities, where it is seen as being used for communication and academic purposes rather than as a way for someone to be integrated into an English community.

2. Supporting diverse learning needs

Student teachers must be trained to identify and support pupils’ diverse learning needs. This helps teachers to identify and address barriers to learning and development and encourages linkages between the home and the school.

This is even more meaningful when it is embedded in experiential learning. For instance, in guided exercises with their own class groups, our students engage with their feelings, experiences and thinking about their own backgrounds and identities. Other activities may be based on real scenarios, such as discussing the case of a boy who was sanctioned by his school for wearing his hair in a way prescribed by his religion.

In these modules we focus on language, culture, race, socioeconomic conditions, disability, sexual orientation, learning differences and behavioural, health or emotional difficulties. The students also learn how to help vulnerable learners who are being bullied.

And these areas are constantly expanding. At Stellenbosch University, we’ve recently noted that we need to prepare teachers to deal with the bullying of LGBT learners. They also need to be equipped with the tools to support pupils who’ve immigrated from elsewhere in Africa.

3. Advancing a democratic classroom

Courses that deal with the philosophy of education are an important element of teacher education. These explore notions of diversity, human dignity, social justice and democratic citizenship.

In these classes, student teachers are encouraged to see their own lecture rooms as spaces for open and equal engagement, with regard and respect for different ways of being. They’re given opportunities to express and engage with controversial views. This stands them in good stead to create such spaces in their own classrooms.

Most importantly, students are invited to critically reconsider commonly held beliefs – and to disrupt their ideas of the world – so that they might encounter the other as they are and not as they desire them to be. In such a classroom, a teacher promotes discussion and debate. She cultivates respect and regard for the other by listening to different accounts and perspectives. Ultimately, the teacher accepts that she is just one voice in the classroom.

4. Understanding constitutional rights in the classroom

All the approaches to teacher education described here are underpinned by the Constitution.

The idea is that teacher education programmes should develop teachers who understand notions of justice, citizenship and social cohesion. Any good teacher needs to be able to reflect critically on their own role as leader and manager within the contexts of classrooms, schools and the broader society. This includes promoting values of democracy, social justice and equality, and building attitudes of respect and reciprocity.

A critical reflective ethos is encouraged. Students get numerous opportunities to interrogate, debate, research, express and reflect upon educational challenges, theories and policies, from different perspectives, as these apply to practice. This is all aimed at building a positive school environment for everyone.

Moving into teaching

What about when students become teachers themselves?

For many new teachers these inclusive practices are not easy to implement in schools. One lecturer in our faculty has been approached by former students who report that as beginner teachers, they don’t have “the status or voice to change existing discriminatory practices and what some experience as the resistance to inclusive education”. This suggests that ongoing discussion and training in both pre-service and in-service education is needed.

At the same time, however, there are signs that these modules are having a positive impact. Students post comments and ideas on social media and lecturers regularly hear from first-time teachers about how useful their acquired knowledge is in different contexts. Many are also eager to study further so they can explore the issues more deeply.

Everything I’ve described here is part of one faculty’s attempts to provide safe spaces where student teachers can learn to work constructively with the issues pertaining to diversity in education. In doing so, we hope they’ll become part of building a country based on respect for all.

Author’s note: I am grateful to my colleagues Lynette Collair, Nuraan Davids, Jerome Joorst and Christa van der Walt for the ideas contained in this article.

The Conversation

Maureen Robinson, Dean, Faculty of Education, Stellenbosch University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Why it’s hard for adults to learn a second language


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Brianna Yamasaki, University of Washington

As a young adult in college, I decided to learn Japanese. My father’s family is from Japan, and I wanted to travel there someday.

However, many of my classmates and I found it difficult to learn a language in adulthood. We struggled to connect new sounds and a dramatically different writing system to the familiar objects around us.

It wasn’t so for everyone. There were some students in our class who were able to acquire the new language much more easily than others.

So, what makes some individuals “good language learners?” And do such individuals have a “second language aptitude?”

What we know about second language aptitude

Past research on second language aptitude has focused on how people perceive sounds in a particular language and on more general cognitive processes such as memory and learning abilities. Most of this work has used paper-and-pencil and computerized tests to determine language-learning abilities and predict future learning.

Researchers have also studied brain activity as a way of measuring linguistic and cognitive abilities. However, much less is known about how brain activity predicts second language learning.

Is there a way to predict the aptitude of second language learning?

How does brain activity change while learning languages?
Brain image via www.shutterstock.com

In a recently published study, Chantel Prat, associate professor of psychology at the Institute for Learning and Brain Sciences at the University of Washington, and I explored how brain activity recorded at rest – while a person is relaxed with their eyes closed – could predict the rate at which a second language is learned among adults who spoke only one language.

Studying the resting brain

Resting brain activity is thought to reflect the organization of the brain and it has been linked to intelligence, or the general ability used to reason and problem-solve.

We measured brain activity obtained from a “resting state” to predict individual differences in the ability to learn a second language in adulthood.

To do that, we recorded five minutes of eyes-closed resting-state electroencephalography, a method that detects electrical activity in the brain, in young adults. We also collected two hours of paper-and-pencil and computerized tasks.

We then had 19 participants complete eight weeks of French language training using a computer program. This software was developed by the U.S. armed forces with the goal of getting military personnel functionally proficient in a language as quickly as possible.

The software combined reading, listening and speaking practice with game-like virtual reality scenarios. Participants moved through the content in levels organized around different goals, such as being able to communicate with a virtual cab driver by finding out if the driver was available, telling the driver where their bags were and thanking the driver.

Here’s a video demonstration:

Nineteen adult participants (18-31 years of age) completed two 30-minute training sessions per week for a total of 16 sessions. After each training session, we recorded the level that each participant had reached. At the end of the experiment, we used that level information to calculate each individual’s learning rate across the eight-week training.

As expected, there was large variability in the learning rate, with the best learner moving through the program more than twice as quickly as the slowest learner. Our goal was to figure out which (if any) of the measures recorded initially predicted those differences.

A new brain measure for language aptitude

When we correlated our measures with learning rate, we found that patterns of brain activity that have been linked to linguistic processes predicted how easily people could learn a second language.

Patterns of activity over the right side of the brain predicted upwards of 60 percent of the differences in second language learning across individuals. This finding is consistent with previous research showing that the right half of the brain is more frequently used with a second language.

Our results suggest that the majority of the language learning differences between participants could be explained by the way their brain was organized before they even started learning.

Implications for learning a new language

Does this mean that if you, like me, don’t have a “quick second language learning” brain you should forget about learning a second language?

Not quite.

Language learning can depend on many factors.
Child image via www.shutterstock.com

First, it is important to remember that 40 percent of the difference in language learning rate still remains unexplained. Some of this is certainly related to factors like attention and motivation, which are known to be reliable predictors of learning in general, and of second language learning in particular.

Second, we know that people can change their resting-state brain activity. So training may help to shape the brain into a state in which it is more ready to learn. This could be an exciting future research direction.

Second language learning in adulthood is difficult, but the benefits are large for those who, like myself, are motivated by the desire to communicate with others who do not speak their native tongue.

The Conversation

Brianna Yamasaki, Ph.D. Student, University of Washington

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

British Council Backs Bilingual Babies


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The British Council is to open a bilingual pre-school in Hong Kong in August. The International Pre-School, which will teach English and Cantonese and have specific times set aside for Mandarin, will follow the UK-based International Primary Curriculum.

The British Council already has bilingual pre-schools in Singapore (pictured above) and Madrid. The adoption of a bilingual model of early years learning, rather than a purely English-medium one, is supported by much of the research on this age group. In a randomised control trial in the US state of New Jersey, for example, three- and four-year-olds from both Spanish- and English-speaking backgrounds were assigned by lottery to either an all-English or English–Spanish pre-school programme which used an identical curriculum. The study found that children from the bilingual programme emerged with the same level of English as those in the English-medium one, but both the Spanish-speaking and anglophone children had a much higher level of Spanish.

http://www.elgazette.com/item/281-british-council-backs-bilingual-babies.html

Zut alors, Jeremy Paxman! French isn’t a ‘useless’ language


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Emmanuelle Labeau, Aston University

Presenter Jeremy Paxman recently hailed the victory of English “in the battle of global tongues” in an article for the Financial Times in which he also claimed that French was “useless” and “bad for you”.

Why such a needless attack on Britain’s closest neighbour and favourite enemy – unless he is trying to court controversy to generate interest in his forthcoming documentary on the UK’s relationship with Europe?

First of all, no language is useless: it serves communication between people. While languages may differ in the number of users and the practical and economic advantages attached to their mastery, they bring similar intellectual and developmental benefits. And multilingualism combines and increases all these gains by favouring personal mental agility, widening horizons and potentially contributing to overcoming parochialism.

Let us now focus on Paxman’s attack on French. Are his barbs aimed at the language or at the people? It’s difficult to say as he confuses countries and languages throughout his column. While he concedes that: “France has enhanced civilisation”, he argues that its influence has long gone. It is very true that the rise and fall of a language greatly depends on extra-linguistic factors such as politics and economy – and France’s current situation does little to enhance the international prestige of its mother tongue.

Burnt cream anybody? Some things just sound better in French.
Le Journal des Femmes, CC BY

Does that mean that the French language is doomed? Clearly not, as French is the official language in 29 countries and France only represents between a quarter and a third of French speakers in the world. Perhaps we might stop to consider, en passant, why Paxman’s analysis does not extend to Britain and English. How much has the elevated status of English worldwide got to do with Britain in the 21st century?

Speaking in tongues

Paxman writes that: “English is the language of science, technology, travel, entertainment and sports”. And he’s right – to an extent. As we know and as all academics can testify, there is huge pressure to publish in English (without necessarily achieving the heights of Shakespeare’s language). And our daily life has been turned upside down in the past 30 years or so thanks to the discoveries of Silicon Valley (which wasn’t in Britain the last time I looked).

When travelling, an ability to master at least “pidgin” English comes in very handy – although it didn’t get me anywhere in Beijing in 2005, and I had to revert to speaking French while in Italy. As for entertainment, of course, people are flocking from all around Europe to take part in Britain’s got Talent … but Hollywood may have a role to play on the global entertainment stage as well.

Like Paxman, I would not expect the singer, Johnny Hallyday (who is, in fact, Belgian-born), to be “the future of pop” – he probably deserves a break after his stellar 50-year career. But the rising global fame of the singer Stromae (real name Paul Van Haver) – the son of a Rwandan father and a Flemish mother – seems to show that entertainment through the medium of French may still have a few good years ahead.

History lesson

Paxman also argues that “France never really decolonised” and its continued influence is stifling development in former colonies by imposing French on their higher education systems rather than English which, he says, would be far more useful. The linguistic imperialism of France certainly does not apply to all former colonies, as eloquently illustrated by the disengagement of France in Djibouti, to the dismay of Francophile locals.

The accusation of colonialism against France appears nonetheless a bit ironic from a British citizen. The Commonwealth is an organisation of British former colonies where Britain played an instrumental role. In contrast, Francophonie – the official use of the French language – was adopted in Senegal by poet and politician Leopold Senghor, in Tunisia the decision to adopt French was taken by Habib Bourguiba and in Cambodia by Norodom Sihanouk.

English and French have coexisted and exchanged words and phrases for a millennium and more. From a 2016 perspective, there is no denying that English has become the most widespread and used language of the two, but it may be worth remembering that for the first half of this coexistence, English was the poor relative and has only taken off as the lingua franca (oh, the irony) since the late 18th century.

History teaches us that civilisations and their language soar and collapse – what would Alexander the Great make of Greece’s current situation? With that in mind, Paxman may be well inspired to moderate his triumphalism. How will the global English language fare in five centuries – will it suffer the same fate as Latin? And even if it could be argued that our hyperconnected civilisation may prevent the death of English, there is no dearth of evidence from the blooming field of “global English” studies to show that the language changes as it conquers the world.

Your language has won the latest battle, Mr Paxman – but no more than that. As you say, the future may belong to those who speak English – but above all, it belongs to those who speak English fluently alongside other languages. And, as former US president George Bush discovered, French is very useful if you want to acquire a really sophisticated vocabulary in English.

The Conversation

Emmanuelle Labeau, Senior Lecturer in French Language and Linguistics, Aston University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

How teachers can help migrant learners feel more included


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Helen Hanna, Leeds Trinity University

Children are often at the forefront of working out what it means to be a new arrival in a different country. They feel the anxiety that comes with being the new girl or boy at school. They’re in an environment that emphasises “integration” – learning new rules, making new friends, possibly learning a new language and grappling with a new testing regime.

Amid all of these changes, teachers may not realise how important it is simply for children to feel included. Even making their home countries a feature of lessons in, for example, geography can help children feel more at ease. It is a valuable opportunity for them to contribute. If their identities are ignored these children may feel detached from school. This sense of detachment has been shown to negatively affect learning. It may also have more serious consequences for a child’s sense of belonging and, ultimately, well-being.

Research I am currently doing in South Africa and England – countries with long histories of migration – looks at the inclusion of migrant learners in primary schools through their own lens, quite literally. The children take photographs in school as a way of explaining and engaging with their environment as a place of inclusion and exclusion.

Children as migrants

South Africa’s 2011 census showed that almost 2.2 million people living there were born elsewhere. Some are economic migrants, seeking work. Others are refugees or asylum seekers. There is also a large population of undocumented migrants. Most come from other African countries.

It’s not known exactly how many migrant children attend South African schools. New arrivals – especially refugees – may lack the formal documentation required for school registration. Added to this challenge is the reality of xenophobic attacks against new immigrants.

On paper, at least, children enjoy good protection. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child requires all signatories – South Africa and the UK included – to adhere to a long list of rights. These include the right to free primary education, non-discrimination and to be consulted on anything that affects them.

But my previous research in conflict-affected societies revealed that children and adolescents, particularly those from marginalised groups, struggle with freedom of speech in school. They also don’t often feel represented in the curriculum.

A new, visual voice

My new, ongoing research explored inclusion in primary schools from the point of view of recent migrant children. The learner-researchers, who are nine or ten years old, worked in small groups, each child using a digital camera. We worked with The Arrival, a wordless picturebook that has recently started to be used in this sort of research. It helped the children think about what it’s like to arrive in a new country and stimulated memories of their own experiences.

Then we walked together around school photographing signs, classrooms, playgrounds and people – anything that the children thought was important to know about their school. Finally, we talked about the photos and came up with some advice for teachers and other learners about how to help new arrivals feel included.

Three ways to include migrant learners

So how can we include migrant learners in school? Here are three tips based on a combination of what the learners in the two countries shared while taking part in the photographic project.

First, ask them. Children struggle with the idea that they are free to make suggestions to adults. I found that when we tried to come up with a list of advice for teachers, it turned into a list of rules for the learner to keep. It emerged that some things teachers did to be helpful, like getting the learner to introduce themselves on the first day, were the opposite of what the children wanted – to be welcomed quietly while sitting with a classmate.

Part of the process of doing research that involves children as participants includes building their capacity so that they can see themselves as individuals who have something important to say. Simply explaining that “We, as adults, know some things about school, but you also know many things that I don’t know because you go to this school” can empower them.

Second, be creative. Use picturebooks, photography, music and dance. These methods can engage new arrivals in a way that doesn’t demand great proficiency or confidence in using the school’s language. Of course the school day is very demanding for both learners and educators, but finding time to do something outside of the normal routine may pay great dividends in learners’ confidence and well-being.

Third, make sure that their identities are discussed and valued in the curriculum, and reflected in their school’s ethos. We must allow them to “find themselves in the story” of what they are learning in school. This will ensure their confidence in who they are, and is particularly important for marginalised groups. The very fact that these learners were chosen to take part in this project seemed to make them feel privileged and valued.

Children’s voices matter

The late statesman Nelson Mandela is quoted as declaring that:

Children are our greatest treasure. They are our future.

Migrant children are a part of this great treasure. They must be included – and this will happen best when their own voices and stories are heard.

Author’s note: most of the children’s photographs featured their own faces, and so cannot be republished here. I would also like to acknowledge the support of the Centre for International Teacher Education at the CPUT, where I have been working as a visiting researcher.

The Conversation

Helen Hanna, Lecturer in Education Studies and Visiting Researcher at Centre for International Teacher Education, Cape Peninsula University of Technology, Leeds Trinity University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Explainer: how is literacy taught in schools?


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Stewart Riddle, University of Southern Queensland and Eileen Honan, The University of Queensland

When education commentators turn their attention to the teaching of reading in Australian schools, they often use metaphors of war. They talk about the reading wars as if our classrooms are sites of intense battle.

This can lead to parents becoming not only confused, but deeply worried about the teaching of reading, and whether their children are being used as cannon fodder in a fight between two opposing sides.

The reality of teaching and classrooms across Australia is far from this image of battle zones, bullets and wars.

Government and professional associations are making concerted efforts, at the national and state levels, to ensure our school students receive the best possible reading instruction.

For example, the Australian Literacy Educators’ Association (ALEA) recently released a declaration called Literacy in 21st century Australia. This draws together the best literacy practices for the classroom and beyond. It explains how literacy goes well beyond traditional notions of reading and writing, with “making meaning” at the heart of all literate practices.

In the Australian curriculum, literacy is not only part of the English curriculum, but is also one of the general capabilities. This means that children throughout all years of schooling should be learning how to use language and how to make meaning, not only in English classes, but in other subject areas too.

Literacy is embedded across all areas of the curriculum, encompassing:

the knowledge and skills students need to access, understand, analyse and evaluate information, make meaning, express thoughts and emotions, present ideas and opinions, interact with others and participate in activities at school and in their lives beyond school.

However, there is a lot of misinformation in the media about what teachers do, so we thought it would be worth explaining how literacy is taught in Australian classrooms.

The early years, age 5-8: learning to read and write

When children first arrive at school, the focus is on teaching them the “how” of reading and writing.

The Australian curriculum emphasises that children need to make connections between their oral language and the written language they are learning.

Students in the foundation year of school need to learn how to understand and recognise the sounds of words, as well as the connections between spoken and written words.

They also need to develop reading fluency, being able to read without stumbling, to recognise and use a variety of words, and to understand what they read.

In years one and two, the focus becomes one of developing text composition and comprehension strategies, including the generic structures and language features of different texts.

Developing vocabulary knowledge is emphasised, as well as reading fluency and comprehension in highly structured daily literacy blocks.

Students engage with high-quality literature and have opportunities to create and explore various ways of expressing themselves through written, visual, spoken and multimodal texts.

Later years, age 8-18: reading and writing to learn

As they move through primary school, students engage in literacy practices across all areas of the curriculum. Modelled, shared, guided and independent reading and writing are daily practices.

Students work with the teacher, other students and independently on viewing and designing many different types of texts throughout the school week.

As students enter the high school years, the emphasis shifts to subject-specific literacies. A good overview of some of these can be found on the curriculum site.

All teachers share the responsibility for developing their students’ literacy capabilities, regardless of whether they are teaching Year 7 drama or Year 12 physics.

Why teaching literacy is important

There is no doubt that Australia is a literacy-dependent society. The demand on young people is growing within the context of international test rankings and competition, an increasingly globalised workforce and a transitioning economy that requires highly sophisticated literacy skills.

As such, it is important that literacy teaching in classrooms reflects the very best approaches that research, policy and curriculum design can provide.

A review of literacy research found that contemporary literacy practices include:

  1. cracking the relationship between written and spoken language
  2. drawing on cultural knowledge to make meaning from texts
  3. being able to use texts purposefully in different contexts
  4. understanding how texts can present different representations of the world.

The ALEA literacy declaration is clear that:

No one method of reading/writing instruction will ever meet the needs of all children at all times. Therefore educators need to be discerning practitioners as they draw on research that is contemporary, valid and rigorously conducted to inform their practice.

A range of literacy learning support materials is available to teachers and parents, including from education authorities in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria. These resources make important links between research, policy and classroom practice.

Professional associations play an important role, including ALEA, the Primary English Teaching Association of Australia and the Australian Association for the Teaching of English. These organisations provide professional development and resources for teachers, as well as commissioning research projects and undertaking advocacy and public engagement.

The Conversation

Stewart Riddle, Senior Lecturer, University of Southern Queensland and Eileen Honan, Senior Lecturer, School of Education, The University of Queensland

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.