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Dedicated to Teachers

ON THE PODCAST: Meaningful Experiences for the Secondary Multilingual Learner

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Today, educator Alycia Owen and Heinemann author Andrea Honigsfeld, discuss the great importance of Andrea's newly released Growing Language and Literacy: Strategies for Secondary Multilingual Learners. This book takes the same framework from Andrea's K-8 book and applies it specifically to the secondary setting. Together, they delve into the importance of addressing every level of proficiency through meaningful experiences, creating supportive learning environments, and incorporating visual representation to enhance language development. We begin by hearing a bit about their long-time working relationship.


Below is a full transcript of the episode:

Alycia Owen:

My relationship with Andrea started actually without having seen her, except on the little cover of a book somewhere when I was working with schools trying to establish co-teaching in a school. Of course, you can't establish co-teaching without reading Andrea's work, so that's how I first came upon the work. And our relationship actually started online as a part of a book club, a slow chat called MLL Chat Book Club, that some of you're probably familiar with. And it was during that course of activities that we were doing a selection of... Actually we're doing a focus on the original book K through eight book, Growing Language and Literacy. And that's how we came to contact each other on Twitter.

Andrea Honigsfeld:

I was very excited that Alycia, as a secondary educator, started adapting, transferring, applying just about everything from the K-8 book to the secondary grades that she was teaching it at that time. So I kept paying really close attention to what Alycia is posting on Twitter. I think I just commented and admired everything, every student work sample, what you created, your teacher artifacts, your examples. And I thought, "Oh my gosh, Alycia is transferring this book, creating a secondary version in the classroom of what the Growing Language and Literacy book intended to do, which was to address every level of proficiency through multiple meaningful opportunities for the students, both to access language and content and being able to participate and grow their academic and social language and literacies. So it was such an exciting connection through Twitter, but that's not where it ended. We met actually in January 2020 in China. Everybody heard that correctly. I was in China and Alycia was in China in January 2020. Coincidentally, I'm not sure how I ended up at the American International School of Guangzhou, if you had anything to do with that invitation?


Yeah, I had a little something to do with it. But when I came on to the school, American International School in Guangzhou, my big mission was to launch a co-teaching model, so I was reading everything I could. And I remember Andrea the little article that you put out with Maria on teaching in tandem. That was a very popular article amongst our staff, and a lot of people were on fire at that time to try co-teaching. And I had come from an immersion program in Venezuela, and so it was a very new experience jumping into China. And as we started working together and collaborating with staff, it really became clear that we wanted to bring Andrea over to China to do some work with the staff. So we were able to finally meet in-person in January of 2020 right before the world changed.


And I guess then I returned to the United States. Alycia, soon after that, you also came back to the United States. And I pitched the idea to Heinemann that, "I think we need a secondary version of this Growing Language and Literacy." Because I was so inspired seeing Alycia's classroom in China, seeing everything that you have done, the tremendous language growth that was documented, student to-student-interactions, opportunities for students to develop their agency. I was in awe visiting your classroom. And I thought, "I need to stay in touch with Alycia. We need to continue working together, collaborating somehow." But then because of COVID, everything pretty much shifted. This book was at that time, not the right priority, so I did not start working on the secondary version of Growing Language and Literacy until 2022. But I stayed in touch with Alycia because if I were to write the secondary version, I'm going to tap into Alycia's expertise and invite her to be a contributor to the book through many, many examples, and also to be my critical friend. Which she did. She accepted that invitation.


Once upon a time, I taught elementary school actually for many years, and so for me, it's always been fun and a challenge to take what I know about developing literacy for the younger ones and transferring that into the secondary setting.


So I'd love for both of you to speak to what addressing every level of proficiency through meaningful experiences looks like at the secondary level, and just to get into some of those specifics of the book and the real importance of this resource.


Yeah, sure. I think I'll jump in right away and talk about from a teacher's perspective. When you have a student who comes into the room, and let's say for example, we have people who are listening who have taught third grade, and a student comes in the room and is new to English. That student is absorbing everything in the room from what they're getting through play, direct instruction, you name it, they're soaking it in. And without going into how language is developed in younger kids, I want to just kind of contrast that with a situation that secondary teachers, we often find ourselves in where we get a new student and that new student might be 14 or 15 years old. And by that time, I think if we all kind of can put ourselves back in that mindset of when we were teenagers, we all know and can remember just what a time of dramatic change that is and a time of being self-conscious and wanting to be accepted by our peers.

We still need help from adults, but we also want to be really autonomous and independent and exercise our own agency. And so I think with those developmental realities in mind, that creates the real difference or it's the beginning of the real difference between language development in a secondary classroom as opposed to an elementary classroom. And in the secondary setting, students are coming in not as blank slates. They're coming in with years and years of experience, both in school and out of school, both at home and in whatever life their life has brought them through. They're all bringing it in the door with them. And so it's our job as secondary teachers to unlock what they're already bringing, to get those assets to the fore. And that's one of the biggest challenges of teaching secondary students, is helping them to express themselves so that they can be the ones who are doing the grappling and doing the learning.


Alycia, you just said it so powerfully that this is a different population. Even though the book is structured very similarly, there are five chapters addressing the five levels of language proficiency, we also have to deeply reflect on and consider that dynamic age group that the book is addressing from grade six to grade 12, so the middle school and high school years with the year-to-year changes that we have to be very sensitive to. So in my writing with Alisha's help and with dozens of other educators help around the United States and internationally, I started every chapter with two composite vignettes. So the structure of the book is very similar to the K-8 book. When you open each chapter, a student's life story welcomes you to the chapter, to the level of proficiency.

Those stories are composite vignettes. Nobody can be recognized. Nobody's privacy is compromised because I wanted to make sure that every reader who encounters this book can relate to these powerful stories and lived experiences that are very unique to each child when they come to our classrooms. So getting back to those examples, Alycia, you just gave me so many wonderful, wonderful, a teacher-created materials, photographs. It was so hard to select the handful that I was able to integrate in the book. So would you tell me what your favorite examples were that you shared and ended up being featured in the book?


One of my favorite resources is actually for teachers. And it's a reminder about grouping. Because I think, again, I'll go back to elementary school for a second, I think as elementary teachers, we're very accustomed to putting our students into groups for reading and for other activities. In secondary settings, maybe not as much, or maybe groupings are more random and students are allowed to select. And while that's appropriate, sometimes we also want to make sure that when we're grouping, we're doing it very intentionally, we're doing it for our purpose and we're doing it for growth. And so I like to remind teachers that random is fun sometimes, but we really want to take advantage of the strengths that our students have. For example, maybe we want to group them according to their first language so that they can utilize more translanguaging strategies. Or maybe there's an instance where we want to vary and group them in a more heterogeneous fashion so that the students who are newer to English are hearing models of a more fluent English speaker.

So there are lots of different reasons why we might change up the groupings, but that's one of the most important things we can do as a teacher of secondary students to keep students motivated and engaged is really think intentionally about why we're putting students into groups and for what purpose we're putting them into groups. And we really want to vary that considerably. Teenagers want to have lots of new things. They're always wanting to try something new, and they definitely want to try working with other class members from time to time and not get stuck in a rut. So that was one of my favorites that I offered for teachers. And it's one that I think has been well received at workshops too, because as I say, secondary teachers maybe haven't spent a lot of time thinking about putting their students in groups. But we do that because of small group interaction. It's the small group interaction that we're shooting for, and the grouping is important.


We actually have a few photographs from your classroom as well, Alycia, that were accepted for the book. And I just love to look at the students' faces, see how they lean into the learning, how they interact with each other and with the material. And how through that type of peer support and collaboration, you can also raise the rigor, because now the fear of failure or fear of not knowing the answer or being left alone with something that's too difficult is taken away. So instead, the students can rely on each other, and they can co-construct meaning out of complex concepts, diagrams, instructions, resources, materials.


I think the interaction component is what makes the classroom a dynamic place. And incidentally, that's where most of the learning takes place, so it's a win for everybody. I know that one of the things I really enjoyed with my high school, and I've done some of this with middle school students, but secondary students, even when working on their pre-writing, that's a wonderful opportunity to involve the students in showcasing their work to a peer. Share your plan, pitch your plan to another student. Describe what you're intending, describe your why as the author. When students articulate their thought process before writing, that's a brilliant way to get them all engaged.

And again, it doesn't matter if you are an emergent bilingual student who would benefit from a sentence stem or frame to get you started, or someone who's a bit more fluent, the point is to enable interaction. And that's something that we can always orchestrate in a classroom with just a little bit of creativity, and a little bit of thought. And I think we're well past the years, thankfully, where students were brought into a room, asked to sit down, the role was taken, and then the teacher proceeded to give the lesson. I think we are far from that, and I couldn't be happier about this fact.


I agree, absolutely. And how our teaching has evolved and changed to be more multimodal, multilingual, multidimensional, so it's a much richer experience for our students to develop language literacy and content in a new language. So that's the challenge for secondary students, that the curriculum that they are responsible for, the grade appropriate content is so much more complex than when we compare it to kindergarten first or early childhood or even elementary grades. So as educators of the secondary student, we have to be even more mindful of how to accelerate their learning, while not take away the joy or the experimentation, the risk-taking during the process.


Yeah, another big difference I see in the secondary class and in elementary classrooms, I think we're very often focused on students learning new words, which of course is critical, and we do that at the secondary level as well. But for secondary students, it's very important that we also work with phrases, specifically academic phrases. And when academic phrasings are worked into their discourse and they're given the scaffolds to use those phrases, it's amazing how quickly those more academically phrased word forms show up in the writing. I think a lot of secondary teachers might be reluctant to have students language, but just as we have younger students rehearse words, students at the secondary level benefit from rehearsal at the phrase level.


I would connect to that.


So I'm thinking of words now like on the contrary, in addition to, and we can get more and more complex, but those longer bits of text that we work with verbally, it's really important that we do that and build that oracy base so that it then translates into or transfers into writing and speaking to a greater degree.


And that connects beautifully with what you said earlier about multiple grouping configurations, because those grouping configurations also allow for multiple meaningful encounters with the content and the language. So that rehearsal, that practice time is no longer repeat after me, repeat after me, and the students keep giving back the same phrases, but applying academic language to new situations and internalizing those phrases and expressions, that are very hard to draw a picture of. You can't really draw a picture of despite or in addition to, so academic language comes to the forefront and meaningful opportunities to practice that language in the secondary classroom is critical. So students can no longer be on the receptive end. They can just listen to the teacher speaking beautifully articulately, explaining complex ideas. The kids have to grapple with those ideas, and also have that good Carol Dweck-ian struggle with the language as well.


Reminded of a high school student who was an emergent bilingual when she came to me from South Korea. And the first time she ever used some sentence stems and frames to speak back to a partner, her eyes just lit up and she turned to me. And I said, "Well, what do you think?" And she said, "I sound smart." And I just felt gratified because she arrived to me smart, but her frustration at not being able to convey her ideas to me, her other teachers, her peers, was making her feel like she was less than somehow.

She knew inside of herself that she was ready for this high school curriculum, in fact some of the courses she had already taken at home, but for her to finally be able to express what was going on in her mind and in her heart in English, it just gave her such pride. And that motivation, I think that's another big part of working with secondary students. When they get that bit of success, then we keep going, we keep going, because those multiple successes, that's where the pride comes in, and that's where that feeling of competence comes in, which is so important for our adolescent learners.


I agree with you 100%. Yet another dimension from the educator's perspective is to create that safe learning environment to create a classroom space, both physically and emotionally, where it is okay to make mistakes, it is okay to mispronounce words. I've probably mispronounced a couple of words myself already during this podcast, so it is okay to take risks. It is okay not to polish our expressions to perfection. So practice and rehearsal doesn't mean that we keep memorizing something until it sounds exactly the way it's always supposed to sound. But being able to take risks and express ourselves more freely, more comfortably, and then more successfully.


We can still have fun with language just as teachers of younger students have fun. I know I've had a lot of fun working with some of these more academic phrasings and using them in non-academic situations. So, using phrases such as conversely, which the word itself sounds academic. But asking a student to tell me about their weekend and weave in the word conversely. Okay, that's kind of a silly thing. It sounds silly when they say an answer, but then they laugh at it too, and they think it's kind of silly. So we can kind of have fun with these new language forms and fun with the fact that we speak differently in an academic setting than we do in a social setting. And secondary students know that. But when we highlight for them and just make our thinking a little more visible to them, they start to have fun with it too.

They want to talk like a scientist or speak like a historian or speak like a writer, and they understand that the formality of that is required, where it might not be required if you're asking someone if they'd like to join you for lunch. Now, Andrea, I have to say too that for those of us who were in China as part of the book club when MLL Chat Book Club was focusing on the K through eight edition, there was more than one teacher that... I'm thinking of my colleague, Bill Brooks in particular. He was teaching middle school at the time, so some of his students were in the age range for the original book. And so he and I had a lot of fun comparing notes about how things were working in his middle school courses. And I would be trying the same things over in the high school courses. And it just took a little bit of a changing language or maybe changing a little regarding our approach to the students.

But we found it a very welcome change that suddenly we had a book that we were really just diving into deep. And it was having applications in every subject area. Because at the time he and I both were teaching. I think he was teaching sheltered English for a section or two, and I had English language development at the high school level, so we were really working with curriculum from all of the courses that the students were taking. So we were able to apply what we were doing to help build their academic language in every subject: math, social studies, English, music. We were using it everywhere we could.


Well, I felt so honored to see the amount of love and attention that the Growing Language and Literacy book received since it was published in 2019. And in this secondary book, my goal was to capture the same type of excitement and offer so many illustrations show, not just tell the readers, the educators, what it could look like to reimagine education for multilingual learners in the secondary classroom, to be more experiential, to be more multimodal, multidimensional, to also attend to the students' social-emotional learning, and well-being, so it was such an amazing undertaking. And you were there every step of the way with me, Alycia. You read every chapter. You so gently guided me, like, "Oh, and how about this? Did you think of this?" So, that was very important to me because even though I am by training a secondary English and Hungarian teacher, that was quite a few years ago when I was actually regularly teaching rather than coaching educators. So, I wanted to publicly thank you for that because it really meant so much to me, and it just made the book so much better and richer and multidimensional.


Really has been my absolute pleasure. Having taught this many years with very few books made for secondary educators, it's so joyful to look now and see that, okay, this is happening. When I first talked to Andrea about the sole focus on a secondary edition, my heart just warmed immediately because I know having been in the secondary classroom for so long just what a vibrant place it can be. And one of the things I hope our secondary teachers really take hold of is just the joy that can be present in a secondary classroom. Some people say they love teaching secondary students because they have an opinion about everything and they don't mind sharing. Those things are true. And if the classroom is structured properly and students feel that they can participate without fear of failure, they can participate without fear of embarrassment, when those things are in place, they're ready to grapple with new ideas, they're ready to talk with peers, they're ready to discuss issues at great depth.

And they really need us to come in and provide that support so that they can be autonomous. And that may sound funny to some people, that, "Oh, we're just going to bring our teenagers or pre-teens into the room just so that they can be independent learners." Not at all. Our adolescent learners need guides around them all the time, and we are those people. It's up to us to orchestrate the situation, so that they can interact with each other and do so in a way that is safe and where they know that they're going to grow as a learner, but also they're not going to have that fear that somebody's going to come and tell them they're making a mistake or tell them that they're not going to make it somehow, or that maybe their skills just aren't solid. We need to build that safety net. And once we do, they take off and they are ready to be in charge of their own learning with us as their guides.


I'm also very mindful of the entering emerging level students, those who are not yet fully able to communicate those opinions that Alycia was referring to, or the vast amount of knowledge and life experience that they have accumulated. Let's say a sixteen-year-old coming into the classroom, and they are at the starting or entering level of English language development, so how we could be mindful and intentional about visual representation, accessing complex material through visual input, how we can invite them also to visually express themselves through drawings and sketch notes and diagrams. And most importantly, also invite their home languages or multiple literacies into the classroom through bilingual peer preaching, through multilingual resources, through translanguaging pedagogies. So, these additional dimensions of working with students in their earlier stages of language acquisition are also addressed in this book, closely examining how the four main domains, listening, speaking, reading, and writing, could be simultaneously developed while we are adding those kinds of multimodal and multilingual forms of expression to our pedagogy, to our instructional repertoires.


Students have so many tools available to them now to represent visually. I think just for example, an infographic is one tiny example, but how many emergent bilingual students have come into my classroom with this vast background that they brought with them? And they may not be able to write a full-blown essay like their English-speaking peers, but they can sit down and make an infographic to demonstrate their understanding at depth on a topic, and it's beautifully rendered. When we give students tools like that to express themselves, that competence, again, is reinforced. And every time we do that, the confidence builds and the smiles get bigger, the effort gets larger, the motivation stays stronger, and everybody wins.


Thanks for tuning in today. You can learn more about Andrea's new book and read a full transcript of the episode at blog.heinemann.com.

Honigsfeld_Book Cover


Andrea is author of the new book, Growing Language and Literacy: Strategies for Secondary Multilingual Learners.




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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.


Alycia Profile Pic300

Alycia Owen is an international educator, program developer, consultant, and author with over 35 years of experience in schooling and working with multilingual learners (MLLs). She has worked in the public schools of California, and in American international schools in Pakistan, the Philippines, Venezuela, and China. 

She delivers workshops at national and international conferences, sharing her expertise with educators and families. She balances theory with practical strategies, equipping attendees with the tools they need to foster literacy and oracy growth in their students.

Alycia is the proud mom of two adult third-culture-kids (TCKs) and lives with her husband in New Mexico. 

Topics: Podcast, Andrea Honigsfeld, Heinemann Podcast, Growing Language and Literacy, podcasts, Supporting Multilingual Learners

Date Published: 04/21/24

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