Today on the Heinemann Podcast, we’re joined by author Andrea Honigsfeld. Andrea’s new book, Growing Language and Literacy: Strategies for English Learners, offers a multi-faceted approach to language instruction. It is based around the five levels of language acquisition identified in the TESOL framework, and emphasizes instructional practices that honor students’ strengths.
Filled with student vignettes, work samples, and classroom examples, Growing Language and Literacy provides K-8 educators with concrete strategies to best support their English learning students.
We started our conversation with understanding what language development is…
Below is a full transcript of this episode.
Andrea: Language development of course is not a static, linear process. Unlike language learning, when we might be assigning a set of vocabulary and then certain grammatical structures, then a reading and writing task, such as in a foreign language class at the secondary level in the United States, language development must be recognized as a very dynamic, fluid, flexible, growth oriented process. So I'm very excited that you asked this question, because it allows me to emphasize that our English learners in all grade levels and in all contexts, need this opportunity for dynamic language development.
Steph: And so your book is built around what you've identified as these five basic premises that support a framework for multilingual learners and their teachers. And I was hoping you could touch a little bit on these premises and give some information about how they function in the classroom.
Andrea: Absolutely. I chose five basic premises to discuss language development in the Kindergarten through eighth grade classroom. The first premise is taking an asset based philosophy or a strengths based approach to understanding what every single child can do in the classroom and how we can best support them.
Rather than taking a look at what they cannot do or what deficiencies they might bring to the classroom, we always have to build on what we have. I also like to say that we cannot remediate what has not been built yet. So language development is a proactive, positive process.
The second premise that I emphasize is recognizing individual variations. While English learners as a group have been described in so many different ways, in the classroom we must recognize that every single child is different. So even though in the five chapters I discuss the five levels of language proficiency, I hope that the readers see that there is just such rich variation and variety of backgrounds, skills and trajectories for these children.
The third premise that I use in this book is a very important approach to language development and that is through integrating content and language and literacy instruction. One way that I could emphasize the importance of this is simply reminding you that content and language are inseparable. You cannot teach math without the language of mathematics. We cannot teach writing or reading skills without closely connecting it to the types of disciplinary literacy that the students need. In simple terms, reading a poem is very different from reading an original document from the 1800's or 1900's in a social studies classroom. Writing a science report is very different from an essay that is required in a social studies classroom.
The next premise is culturally and linguistically sustaining instructional and assessment practices. Similar to the first premise of taking an asset based philosophy, this particular approach further emphasizes the value and the funds of knowledge and experiences that children are bringing to the classroom. And rather than replacing them with mainstream English general education type of instruction, we have to recognize, validate and respond to the student's languages literacies, cultural practices and we need to validate them through multimodal, multilingual and multisensory learning opportunities.
And finally, in a lot of my other publications I talk a lot about collaboration and interaction. Here as well, I'd like to emphasize the importance of allowing interaction between and among students and between and among teachers. Learning a language, acquiring a language, developing a language, whichever phrase we're going to end up using, is a social constructivist act. We cannot learn language, we cannot acquire language or develop language if we're not using it authentically in a meaningful way in a variety of different contexts. So those are the five premises that guide me in my discussion of language development in this book.
Steph: And you know of course, all these premises play an equal role in language development. But I did just want to touch back on the very first one of an assets based approach and why it is so important, as you say, to focus on what language learners can do as opposed to what they can't do.
Andrea: If we think about a newcomer and in second language acquisition a very well known phrase is the silent period, we have to think deeply about that. Because if the child is silent in English, it does not mean that their mind or their heart is silent. They're thinking, they're feeling, they can express themselves in so many different ways, other than in English or in their target language. And it is our job to embrace that. That while a child might not be communicating in English the way his or her classmates are, it does not mean that we would not be able to build upon the tremendous assets and strengths and knowledge and skills that they're already bringing to the classroom.
We have to find an avenue, an entry point to those assets. And as I mentioned earlier, a magic word I like to use is multi, multimodal, multisensory, multilingual, multiple meaningful opportunities to interact with the material, multiple grouping strategies that we could use, including creating bilingual peer bridges or native language supports in the classroom. So these are all ways that we could recognize that the child, even if they are at the absolute beginner level of language acquisition or language development, can bring and should be recognized for what they bring to the classroom.
Steph: Yeah, and something that I loved about this book was the emphasis on varied understandings of language such as reading, writing, visual representation, not just speaking. And I wanted to hear why that diversity is so important.
Andrea: So the typical literacy skills that we seem to nurture in the K8 classroom are of course reading and writing. Our students must develop basic reading skills and then more advanced reading comprehension skills. And by the time they hit third grade they're going to be reading to learn rather than learning to read.
Writing similarly is absolutely important, critical as an academic skill. Yet when we look at an English leaner we need to recognize that the four language skills, listening, speaking, reading and writing, develop at the same time but not at the same rate. So we cannot isolate a single skill and just focus on phonics for example. Or we're focusing on developing a specific grammatical structure and practice that over and over. Some of those practices are now outdated and we truly have to make an effort to replace them with a more integrated, more comprehensive and dynamic approach to language development.
So in this book I emphasize that multimodal type of teaching, that highly interactive kind of teaching in which oral language expression is more privileged than in a typical classroom. I like to note that if I cannot talk about something, how could I read and write about that topic? If I don't have an opportunity to meaningfully interact with new concepts or new learning experiences how could I transfer anything into that more abstract academic world?
So English learners, or for that manner, all learners need multiple meaningful opportunities to interact and deconstruct and unpack complex learning experiences. And some of those experiences must happen through hands on learning, interacting with objects and online resources and varied modalities of learning.
Steph: In each chapter you present these strategies that are based on the TESOL framework. Why did you decide to incorporate those into your book?
Andrea: The WIDA framework and many other states frameworks are similar to what the TESOL framework presents which include five levels of language proficiencies starting, beginning, developing, expanding and bridging. I chose the TESOL framework because as I mentioned, it is very similar all other five level language proficiency frameworks. TESOL is our international advocacy organization and I value the work that they're doing and I'd like to emphasize the importance of these five levels for this book.
Steph: And who is this book for? And how do you hope educators will use it?
Andrea: Well I'm probably dreaming, I'd like this book in every K8 classroom teacher's hands. So I'm saying that because an English language development specialists, often called ESL teacher, ESOL teacher, L teacher, ELL teacher, we have a lot of different names out there. I'm one of those. I'm a certified, fully credentialed ESOL teacher in New York State by profession.
Many of the strategies, much of the information that will be presented in this book will be thoroughly familiar to that group of educators. At best they're going to feel validated. I'm also hoping that they will be occasionally challenged in their thinking if they were trained in ESL strategies maybe years or decades ago.
However, the main audience that I had in mind when I was writing this book is the classroom teacher as well as coaches, administrators, principals, who would just really need to understand what English learners on the five language proficiency levels can do and how we could push them. How can we guide them to reach the next level of language proficiency. So as I said, I hope that this book will make a difference in many many classrooms around the United States and beyond.
Steph: So for anyone listening who hasn't gotten the book yet, can you just talk a little bit about the design of this book, all the beautiful illustrations that are in it? It's a really beautiful book design-wise.
Andrea: So I'd like to give Holly Kim, my acquisition editor, credit for that. She invited me to create this absolutely beautiful book, as you mentioned before. I was so honored when she first discussed this idea with me, that we should put out a book that celebrates what English learners can do and tell their story through beautiful illustrations, photographs, so everybody can see what these kids can do.
So when that invitation came I reached out to many of the teachers with whom I worked around the country, coached them or did professional development or they were my master's students at Molloy College a few years ago. And I invited them to share with me their best work. And as you could see from the book, I had hundreds and hundreds of responses. We had to narrow it down to about 120 full color illustrations that you could see in this book. And there were so many more that I received. It was a very very hard decision which student's samples and photographs to feature.
I'd like to highlight three wonderful educators from three different parts of the country who have done so much work. They went above and beyond what I would have ever dreamed when it came to producing or collecting teacher work. So the three educators that I would like to send a very special thank you to, are Katie Toppel, Jill Ayabei, and Glenda Harrell. Thank you, you are amazing and I truly appreciate your contributions to this book.
I'd like to thank Heinemann for this opportunity, to be able to tell the story of English learners and their teachers on the five levels of language proficiency through photographs and work samples and teacher strategies and illustrated teacher work that I was able to include in every chapter.
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Dr. Andrea Honigsfeld is Associate Dean and Director of the Doctoral Program (Educational Leadership for Diverse Learning Communities) at Molloy College, Rockville Centre, NY. Before entering the field of teacher education, she was an English as a Foreign Language teacher in Hungary (grades 5-8 and adult), an English as a Second Language teacher in New York City (grades K-3 and adult), and taught Hungarian at New York University. A Fulbright Scholar and sought after national presenter, Andrea is the coauthor or coeditor of 20 books on education and numerous chapters and research articles related to the needs of diverse learners. Andrea is coauthor of the Core Instructional Routines books with Judy Dodge. Visit Andrea at www.andreahonigsfeld.com