Today, we'll hear author Andrea Honigsfeld in conversation with Pam Schwallier, the director of EL and Bilingual Programs at West Ottawa Public Schools in Michigan. Andrea is the author of Growing Language and Literacy: Strategies for English Learners. The deep respect they have for their profession and for the population of students who bring rich linguistic heritages to the classroom is powerful. Listen in as they delve into this asset-based approach that focuses on integrated language services and crosscutting strategies.
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Below is a transcript of this episode.
Rather than perceiving English language learners as a group of students who somehow need everything done to them, with them in a completely different way, we could perceive that all students are general education students, first and foremost, and all students learn academic language in the classroom. The language of the playground, the language of the lunchroom, the language of the hallways, family time, sports clubs are very different.
Hi, this is Edie. Welcome back to the Heinemann podcast. Today we'll hear author Andrea Honigsfeld in conversation with Pam Schwallier, director of EL and Bilingual Programs at West Ottawa Public Schools in Michigan. Andrea is author of Growing Language and Literacy: Strategies for English Learners. The deep respect they have for their profession and for the population of students who bring rich linguistic heritages to the classroom is powerful. Listen in as they delve into this assets-based approach that focuses on integrated language services and crosscutting strategies.
Before we start, I invite you to sign up for the Heinemann newsletter. We send biweekly updates with articles from our blog and podcasts featuring the latest thought leadership from our authors and even samples from our latest titles. If you'd like to sign up, visit heinemann.com/newsletter. Here's Pam and Andrea.
Well, hi, Dr. Andrea Honigsfeld. Thanks for talking with me a little bit today about your book Growing Language and Literacy, and just wanted to talk to you a little bit more. We had a large group of teachers who are teachers of multilingual students use this text as a book study. And as we were engaging in the conversation and reading, we were a group of teachers and professionals that were working directly with multilingual learners. But as we read and talked, we realized that these strategies are perfect for all learners. And so I was wondering if you could talk to us a little bit about how the strategies in this book are not only beneficial for multilingual students and their teachers, but truly strategies that could meet the needs of all learners.
Well, thank you so much for this opportunity to chat about this book with me. And I know that you were one of the first school districts under your leadership that started reading this book, discussing this book, reaching out to me, and I'm just so honored that we can continue that conversation now.
I'd like to recognize Ivannia Soto's work who coined the acronym ALL, A-L-L. And ALL stands for Academic Language Learners. So rather than perceiving English language learners as a group of students who somehow need everything done to them, with them in a completely different way, we could perceive that all students are general education students, first and foremost, and all students learn academic language in the classroom. The language of the playground, the language of the lunchroom, the language of the hallways, family time, sports clubs are very different. That kind of language is relatively easy and fast for our multilingual learners to develop.
But when it comes to learning the precise academic language of mathematics or the rich vocabulary that we encounter in a science classroom, or the unique features of all the genres that the students are expected to master in an ELA classroom, that's the same for all of our students. All students will have to deconstruct a math problem, underline those keywords, or put a question mark next to the section of that math problem that will have to be solved. So some of the same strategies that I'm presenting in this book, actually, as you said, most of the same strategies are truly transferable to classrooms that might not have designated English language learners.
I love that. We often refer to all of our students as academic language learners and not separating or siloing our English learners themselves, but thinking about how can we provide professional development for all of our teachers who are serving all students. So I love that connection.
Also, looking at your book, it's organized in different levels of language proficiency, and that's a topic that we come back to a lot here at the local level as well, talking about WIDA scores, or depending what state you're in, what language proficiency level. So it was really interesting to read this book with that lens through different levels of language proficiency and wondering if you could tell us a little bit more about, from your experience and your lens, how that's so helpful for teachers to truly know this language level of each one of their multilingual learners. And then maybe what some recommendations are that you have for multilingual learners regardless of that level of language proficiency.
First of all, as professionals, we always obtain some kind of baseline data about our students, some kind of intake data, evidence of their prior academic learning, their bilingual and biliteracy competence. And sometimes there is a score, whether it's a WIDA score or an ALPHA score. In New York, Texas and other states, there are some local assessments that are used, statewide assessments, but that single score can never define our students. The score is very helpful for monitoring progress. There are a number of reasons why we want and need those scores, but the reason why I wrote this book is to make sure that the language proficiency levels come alive. The five chapters correspond to the five levels of language proficiency so that we could have a rich picture painted about all the assets that our students bring to the classroom, that we could look through the lens of what the students can do. Very much aligned to the WIDA can do philosophy with the exception that in this book, there are lots of concrete examples, student artifacts, teacher work samples, photographs. So it was such a joy for me to gather up information, evidence and rich illustrations coming from practicing educators who were willing to share and parents who gave permission for their children's photographs and work samples to be included.
And what was your second question?
Sure. What recommendations you might have for multilingual learners regardless of that proficiency level, whether they're newcomers or they've been learning English for a long time, and it may be at that very top level of language proficiency?
Regardless of language proficiency levels, I like to talk about cross-cutting strategies. Rather than thinking about that you need a whole different toolkit if you have a level one student, now you have a level two student, all of a sudden you need to switch out your toolkit and so forth and make it unsustainable or overwhelming for educators, we could certainly select and focus on those cross-cutting strategies. How do we make sure that we are offering our students visual input access to the curriculum through multimodality, engaging in learning, again, through multisensory, multimodal, multilingual entry points and learning experiences, and also creating a learning environment, a classroom environment in which the students are starting to do more and more of the talking of the active engaged language use.
If they're only on the receptive end, if they're only receiving information and language, they're going to be developing pretty strong receptive skills or interpretive skills according to the new label that WIDA is introducing in the 2020 standards. But ultimately, what we want to make sure our students can do is to express themselves and express themselves through multiple modalities, through speaking, through writing, through visually representing their ideas and so forth. So these are those cross-cutting strategies that we can keep in mind across the language proficiency levels and adding more challenging, more inviting opportunities for them to express themselves, as well as reducing the amount of scaffolds or the type of scaffolds that we put in place.
I think that was one of the things that my teachers were so appreciative of is not only those real life examples, but also so many of those cross-cutting strategies that are able to be used for all of their students so it's not so overwhelming. So thank you.
I truly appreciate the interactions and the opportunities I have to work with educators like you, Pam, because you bring that day-to-day challenge and joy of working with this population. So I'd love to hear about how your teachers use the book or how they were able to then develop ownership of the ideas. And they just ran with some of those strategies because you shared those with me as your teachers were implementing the book.
Yeah. As we're thinking about cross-cutting strategies, I know some of our teachers now are doing a lot more co-teaching, providing some integrated services, and we've just really appreciated not only this book, but many of the resources that you've provided to the field about really growing integrated language services. And so our teachers have really appreciated as they're co-teaching and learning how to bring a content expert with a language expert into that same space. Some of those anchor charts that you can see examples of or multilingual glossaries that have been used or strategies to get total engagement in their class, to be able to increase the amount of interaction and building upon the assets and having a space where students can use both of their languages in their classroom during assessments or during conversation and pulling that back together.
So this book has been really powerful as a tool, along with some others, as our teachers have begun to tiptoe into this space of providing more services to together rather than our prior model had been truly pulling students out where we had a separate EL block we called language block for a long time, and they used a separate curriculum. And all of those strategies were housed or almost kept secret in this space of an EL classroom where the tools in this book really are empowering all of our teachers now to look at how do we learn language and content to gather and honor the assets of our students and keeping them with their peers to be able to practice that language together.
Speaking of assets that you mentioned earlier too, the whole book is really grounded in this assets-based approach, which has been really important to us as a district as we've been trying to elevate multilingualism and really honor the languages and cultures of all of our students in this space. So maybe you could talk to us a little bit more about why that was so important for you as you were writing this book, and maybe a little bit about why it's important for all of our students, and especially multilingual learners in particular, to elevate and leverage those assets.
For too long, we've been thinking about English learners as limited English proficient students. Do you remember that acronym?
Oh, yes. It stuck around for a long time.
LEP. And to me, it was just so disturbing to think about this population as a larger and larger and an increasingly growing group of students who are defined by their limitations. Just even the very first word is limited English proficient. And I remember a very long time ago, I think in the 1990s, there was one school district in Florida that was just very defiant. They redefined LEP as language enriched pupil. So we still had to use, everybody had to use LEP as the designated acronym or descriptive label attached to this population, but in this case, rather than accepting or embracing the limitation to define the students, they decided to focus on the assets. They are truly language enriched because they speak another language already. Many of them also have multiple languages, dialects, varieties of different linguistic repertoires that they can tap into. So the asset-based approach that I incorporated in this book is reflective of the same thinking, moving away from the limitation, even moving away from English learners, redefining this population as a group of students who bring rich linguistic heritages, traditions, literacies or oral traditions into the classroom with them.
Yeah, I know that that terminology has changed so much over the years. Sometimes it's hard to keep up with all of the acronyms in the field of education. So we have gone from EL, ELL. Some people call the class ESL. We called it language block for a while, and now we hear more and more people across the nation refer to these students as multilingual learners or emergent bilingual learners. And just wondering your perspective. As this terminology changes and evolves over time, why the shift in terminology and how does that really impact our students and families and the way that we as educators speak with and about this group of students?
I think words are very important. How we define students will have an impact on how they define and see themselves. So going back to this notion of defining students as limited English learners, English proficient students, they themselves will see their limitations. If we start shifting in a more asset-based direction, we're going to reaffirm in our students that language is a powerful part of their identity, something that they have to be proud of, something that they can use, something that has a space and time in the school context as well. It doesn't just belong after school. It's not just the home language that we're interested in, but we're interested in how the students can leverage their access to their multiple languages and literacies in the classroom, even if the teacher is not multilingual. That's where the challenge comes in. Of course, I don't know if you have experience with that when you have maybe some of your teachers being bilingual, multilingual. Some other teachers might not be multilingual. So how do they feel about this?
Yeah, we certainly have some misconceptions where when people hear what I do, how many languages do you speak? Well, I am bilingual, but with only Spanish and English. And so I really affirm our educators that they don't need to be bilingual. They don't need to know more than one language to be able to support our students becoming bilingual. And so sometimes that misconception hinders them, is they feel that they're not equipped enough to serve the student population, but really affirming that these students come to us with a rich language background and that our teachers, with strategies like the ones that we find in your book and through so much of the literature and expertise that exist in the fields, that they really are equipped to be able to meet the needs of our multilingual learners.
And so it's been a joy and a challenge to be able to work with our teachers who are multilingual, monolingual, serving in content areas, serving as EL specialists. So we've loved your work. We've loved to be able to leverage that in multiple capacities throughout our classrooms and schools. So thank you so much for all that you've done to give back to the field. And we are looking forward to our next book study with hopefully your next published book.
And I think what we have to share with the listeners is that you've been just so tremendously helpful, supportive of my publications, but your school district, teachers from West Ottawa are going to be featured in my next book, the secondary version of Growing Language and Literacy, which is coming out later in the spring of 2024. So thank you for that support and just the willingness, the talent, the gift that your teachers have been sharing with me. I truly appreciate that.
Absolutely. We love that you truly live out collaboration and that you're willing to reach out to individual districts, to states, to all different levels of individuals and really breathe life into collaboration. And so we're thrilled to be able to support the work and learn from you as we go, and we know that it's a journey that we're going to continue on. So we're honored to be able to do the work with you.
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Dr. Andrea Honigsfeld is TESOL professor at Molloy University , 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 27 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.