For many years I taught on a campus with an ESL program. We served students from around the globe, and our program was well known for the success we had with multilingual children. Families literally sought out our school before signing a lease or purchasing a home, because they wanted to be sure their kids would be zoned to our campus.
On our campus, we worked hard to be student-centered. Even though the majority of the teachers were monolingual, we nurtured a mindset that embraced students’ assets—all of them, not just their English assets.
Many children count the minutes until their art, music, or physical education (PE) class period begins. This could be their time to shine, where they find inspiration or feel the safest. On the other hand, some students dread going to these same classes. They might feel insecure about their skills, shrink in the environment because they don’t understand, or feel as if they aren’t seen or valued.
Dr. Brené Brown says, “Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging have the courage to be imperfect.” Students need to know that it’s okay to make mistakes. Those mistakes are part of the process, both in language and in learning art, music, and PE. In fact, creating environments that immerse students in engaging conversations can promote a sense of belonging in art, music, and PE classrooms while building language and skills to succeed.
Two ingredients are essential for acquiring language: comprehensible input (Krashen, 2017) and multiple opportunities for low-stress output (Loewen & Sato, 2018). This means that students must understand what they hear or read and have opportunities to express themselves verbally or in writing in safe, risk-free environments. Art, music, and PE can be great places to provide these opportunities for students. The four ideas below bring comprehensible input and low-stress output into art, music, or PE. They will enhance language acquisition for English learners, but they are effective for all students too.
I stumbled into my first English-Russian interpreting job in 1997. In my last year at the Linguistic University of Nizhny Novgorod, someone asked if I wanted to interpret for a British specialist for a day.
The British specialist, Nancy, was a vet from the UK, and we spent the entire day vaccinating cows at the nearby cattle farm. I was translating while Russian specialists were following Nancy’s (my — oh horror!) directions.
If we’ve learned anything this past year and a half, it’s to be prepared for anything. Being flexible and adaptable in our approach to instruction has taken on new meaning. The circumstances we’ve lived through will leave us all changed.
Our recent experiences have taught us about fragility and strength in education. Many schools rapidly closed their doors and moved into remote instruction when the pandemic hit. Educators were stunned. No one could have predicted that the situation would last as long as it did (or has). At the same time, as a nation of educators, we learned how strong we are together. Teachers readily shared resources and knowledge. They helped one another make the pivot from traditional classrooms to virtual learning and then to hybrid and back again.
Could this happen again? It could, and if it does, we’ll be better prepared next time. Here are some things to keep at the forefront as the new school year begins.
We are definity a family of biophiles! And no, I did not just make up that word. Admittedly, however, I only recently discovered this term that perfectly describes my husband, Carlos, my sons, Kai (5) and Karsten (1), and me. Dr. Edward Wilson, a biologist, naturalist, and author, coined the term “biophilia”in his book by the same name, characterizing what he observed as humanity’s “innate tendency to focus on life and lifelike processes, and to be drawn toward nature, to feel an affinity for it, a love, a craving.” Do we humans have an innate connection to nature? Lots of researchers think so. I have also become increasingly interested in the work of Ricahrd Louv, who writes extensively about what he refers to as nature-deficit disorder: the combined negative effects to our health and well-being from limited exposure to nature and the outdoors. I have read most of his work and highly recommend his books to teachers, parents and caregivers, especially The Last Child in the Woods, Vitamin N, and The Nature Principle.
When you look at a piece of art or a photograph, what happens in your mind? Images like these often tell a story. There’s a message, the main idea, and the details. How do we decipher one from the other? What do we infer? How do we interpret imagery? The truth is, our own personal lived experiences and background knowledge come together as we meet an image, forming an idea and creating an interpretation. It’s at this intersection that we synthesize.
“My English learners need help. I have about 100 students across grades six through eight who need immediate language support. Did you know they read at the second-grade level? What are your suggestions? How can we better prepare them for the state exams? What can we set up for these kiddos? Can we get some pull-outs started? Should they work with ESL aides during advisory? Can you help my ESL aide pull together some materials?”
If you’ve ever supported English learners as an ESL teacher, an ESL instructional coach, or an ESL program specialist, you know that well-meaning principals want the best for English Learners on their campuses. Hearing the urgency in the principal’s voice, you convey your readiness to help. At the same time, you know quite well that the needs of those 100 students range as widely as their backgrounds and personalities, and there is no program that would be a panacea for all.