Monday, November 12, 2018

Planning for academic language acquisition

Over the past several years I have been fortunate to be involved with some thinking around the area of language acquisition. This originated at my previous school, where the student body was 98% non-English mother-tongue (L1), although it has carried over into my current school as we continue to explore the role that language plays in the development of international mindedness.

One piece that has emerged specifically from this inquiry into language acquisition in an immersed environment, was the desire to create a reference tool that would be useful for teachers - particularly when the support of EAL expert teachers was unavailable. We thought that there were several aspects of language acquisition were important to consider with regards to planning for learning but also felt that most teachers didn't have time to delve into the reams of resources that we'd collated. So our aim was to produce a format that was able to be accessed easily - 'a one pager'. Here is an example of what we're currently working with:
G5 HTWW by Dave Secomb on Scribd

The tool continues to evolve as different teachers use it - for example, we're currently looking at the best way to structure the vocabulary section. It's been particularly interesting to see the German department explore this model during this academic year.

You can see that the planner is separated into seven sections. The top three outline the broad context within which the inquiry will take place. We use First Steps as a common, though not exclusive, planning tool at my school so take the language features and text structure from there. This ensures consistency between the different classes for a particular grade without limiting everyone to a specific genre. We also identify a language objective that runs alongside the content understanding (central idea) of the unit. Again, we do this to ensure consistency across the grade in terms of what we are working towards with the students. After all, if achievement and progress in terms of the unit of inquiry is contingent on the acquisition and application of specific language features then we have a responsibility as educators to scaffold this learning with the students.

The following four sections are based on the key elements for an immersive model: Academic Language; Translanguaging Strategies; Linguistic Scaffolds and Differentiation. It is an expectation that all teachers across the school differentiate for their students so we acknowledge the importance of it but direct most of our energy into developing the other three sections. Academic Language can be looked as the building blocks of CALPS (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency). Working alongside this, the linguistic scaffolds are the mortar which hold the bricks in place. Translanguaging strategies are ways of leveraging the learner's L1 proficiency to access the additional language(s) they're learning.

It is worth noting that this tool is not designed to constitute an entire language learning program for a school or grade. It is aimed at informing pedagogy in the 'Learning Through Language' focus. While it will inevitably inform practice in all three areas of Halliday's model, the primary aim is to help develop the students' proficiency in being able to use language as a tool for inquiry. We would advise that there should also be a dedicated focus on 'Learning Language' and 'Learning About Language'. It's also important to note that, although this planning tool was originally devised for use with EAL students, there will undoubtedly be some aspects that are effective for all students in the class, particularly with the focus on academic language. The IB addresses this point in their publication Language and Learning in IB Programs (pg. 24) when discussing CALPS:

"However, it cannot be assumed that even those whose first language is the language of instruction are familiar with academic language. Some may be fluent in a dialect or non-standard variety, may have had little exposure to reading and writing in the language of the school and may also need to be made aware of the types of discourse necessary for school."

Photo by Diomari Madulara on Unsplash

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Compassionate Systems Framework

For the past couple of years my school has been involved with a project in collaboration with MIT and the IB, as well as several other IB schools scattered around the world. This is a guest post from our Director of Teaching and Learning, Jacob Martin, who explains the scope of the collaboration far more eloquently than I. It's exciting to be a part of this project and I'm interested in seeing where it goes and what part this framework might play in the enhanced PYP in our context.  

As a leading International Baccalaureate(IB) World School, we are frequently asked to participate in the development of educational practice at IB schools. One of the most exciting recent projects ISZL is taking a leading role in is the development of a new set of classroom practices called "The Compassionate Systems Framework". This is a combination of systems thinking tools often used in the classroom (examples here) and the development of a compassionate mindset in students. We have been truly amazed by the results of some of the works we have done with teachers and students at our school and the project is becoming a global educational project with ISZL leading the way. The project stems from the work of Peter Senge at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Young people throughout different cultures and circumstances are confronted with the complex contradictions of the interconnected, interdependent systems in our world (e.g. climate change, human migration, terrorism, substance use, etc.). An essential question for the future of education is how do we help students to reflect on, deeply understand and respond mindfully and compassionately rather than just feeling overwhelmed by the complexity of these systems. With the growing interest in education in social and emotional learning (SEL) and mindfulness today, we feel it is especially timely to show how these can combine with skills in understanding systems and complexity to establish a cognitive and affective foundation for global citizenship and what we at ISZL call “International Mindedness.”

We are looking to developing the skillsets of a systems thinker with our students, through using a variety of systems thinking tools and practices: seeing deeper systemic structures underlying surface events, and how mental models and “artefacts” shape those structures. But, even for skilful systems thinkers, complex issues can easily be seen as something outside of ourselves, or something we understand intellectually but not emotionally. “Systems sensing” skills help to “sense into” the multiple experienced realities in any complex setting.
Over time, these skills can combine to nurture a compassionate stance. One technique involves understanding the structural sources of problems that go beyond individual people or groups (avoiding a blame based culture). Another lies in staying “next to that other” and feeling with them how they feel yet with less internalisation of the other’s emotional state than can occur with empathy alone (and the consequent feelings of being overwhelmed or “emotionally high-jacked”) and yet also holding an intention for others’ well-being - which is why compassion is seen in many developmental traditions as a cultivated, refined state of being.
In this framework we deliberately cultivate compassion as an essentially attribute of the mind: to cultivate compassion is to be able to appreciate the systemic forces that influence people’s actions. It is the capacity to hold paradoxes - to see and sense the larger system with all its interdependence and interconnectedness and all the unintended consequences of human behaviour - without judgment but with real care for the system and everyone involved in it.
In a world where snap judgements and beliefs are often used to justify actions, where the media bubble we each inhabit is reinforcing stereotypes and beliefs, we are looking to provide our students with a way to see problems more deeply and to understand and find compassionate solutions to them.

Monday, September 17, 2018

PYP for new parents

Well, it's been almost a full year since I've last posted on this blog. So much has been happening over the past year and there's lots to write about. I have actually been doing a lot of writing - just not in this format and the time hasn't yet quite been right for me to get back into it. Looking back at some of my most recent posts, there's some things that I'd like to revisit - but I'll save them for another time. To get things started again, I thought I'd share a presentation that I facilitated last week with our new parents at ISZL.

Starting at a new school is always a nervous time. Will I enjoy it? Will I make friends? Will I know what is going on? And that's just the parents! It's logical that if a family moves to a new country with their children and they can settle into a new school quickly then is eases the burden on the rest of the move. In my years of experience working with new families I often find that those that weren't entirely sure about whether it was the right decision to move can sometimes narrow their focus on things that they might be able to have more control over. School is one of those things. Offering opportunities for parents to listen and discuss their experiences and ideas around education can help to ease any concerns that they might have.

Let's not hide anything here - the PYP is different to many approaches to primary schooling in different places around the world.  What's helpful for parents to know, in a curriculum sense, is that their kids will be more or less learning similar subjects to what they're used to (although this may look a little different in practice), we look for regular opportunities to collect data on whether their children are learning, and that there's a school-wide focus on for learning for the future. Oh, and there's very minimal home learning - more on that in a separate post.