July 28, 2016
I am a teacher. On average, I spend approximately nine hours a day — five days a week — in my classroom. During those nine hours, my responsibilities range from exercising classroom management to teaching academic content to assessing my students’ learning. That does not include the extra four hours a week I spend supervising extracurricular activities, or the countless hours I spend lesson planning, inputting assessment data, or thinking about my students.
To say that a teacher’s work takes up a lot of time is an understatement. The job covers numerous roles—instructional lead, social worker, health official, policy implementer, etc—spanning a wide array of specific tasks. When it comes to kids, teachers do just about everything.
But as comprehensive as that sounds, I am limited — as all teachers are. Physical barriers limit my ability to see into other teachers’ classrooms. The composition of my students — all Asian-Americans — limits my insight on how to interact with differing populations. There are limits on the time I have available to learn and develop more effective strategies to become a better teacher.
“How would another teacher handle this situation?” is one of the hardest questions to answer. It’s also one of the most frequently asked. For teachers working with DLLs, answers to this question are especially rare. There is a national shortage of bilingual teachers, ESL support staff, and other linguistic resources. And since there are not enough teachers and not enough hours dedicated to the 4.5 millions DLLs in the country, observations of other teachers and learning from them often take a backseat.
Recent videos produced by Teaching At The Beginning, a nonprofit organization that supports educators of young DLLs, are attempting to overcome these limits.
The organization released a series of 20 short videos titled The Young Dual Language Learner with the hope that they can be tools for observation, study, and professional development for educators in the field.
According to creators Phil Bedel and Sally Durbin, the videos are separated into three categories: Teaching Strategies, which “features teachers, who are supporting first and second language development;” The First and Second Languages of Young Children, which “features young dual language learners, who benefit from responsive environments;” and Parents, Family and Community Engagement which “focuses on the strengths of the assistants, volunteers and parents at school and at home.”
Early childhood researcher Linda Espinosa says the videos highlight real-world examples and “vividly illustrate what we mean by strategically using the home language to support English language development for preschool DLLs.”
Approximately 100 children are featured in the videos. All the children, between 3–5 years old, are shown interacting with one of the three teachers or with one another. Some of the highlights from the videos include Chinese students teaching a monolingual teacher words from their native language, Spanish-speaking students reading and singing “Five Little Monkeys” while using a toy phone, and parents writing letters — in their home languages — to children who later opens them during class time.
Professor Marilyn McGrath from Santa Monica College said, “these videos demonstrate that by respecting the diverse culture and home languages of families, young learners become happier, more confident, and more engaged in all the activities of the school day.” This is especially important for DLLs, since research has shown that school success is intimately tied to students’ engagement levels while at school.
Each video comes with a set of five or six questions. Bedel and Durbin said that these questions “provide the professor, director, teacher, or trainer with springboards for discussions, building on the strengths and experiences of the participants.” These encourage everyone — teachers, parents, administrators — involved to critically think about the impact an accepting school environment has on DLLs. While not all the teachers in the video speak the languages of the students — which are representative of most schools in the United States — the videos provide a real look inside classrooms where respect, patience, and meticulous planning can overcome linguistic barriers.
Resources like this one are rare. “Getting high quality video in an early childhood program is notoriously difficult,” said Gay Macdonald, Executive Director of UCLA Early Care and Education. “The active, noisy environment works against the non-invasive capturing of unscripted, spontaneous examples of the children learning and using a new language in the company of a well-prepared, alert teacher.”
With limited resources available to enrich bilingual teachers and ESL support staff, technology and videos like these could prove to be the starting blocks for discussion and the dispersal of knowledge regarding best practice.
This is how teachers like myself — even when we spend approximately 50 hours a week inside our own classroom — can get insight from other educators. This is how we get an answer to the question: How would another teacher handle this situation and what can I learn from them?
This post is part of New America’s Dual Language Learners National Work Group. Click here for more information on this team’s work. To subscribe to the biweekly newsletter, click here, enter your contact information, and select “DLL National Work Group Newsletter.”