[lg policy] Educators face new challenges in 'superdiverse' classrooms where multiple languages are spoken

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Thu May 3 10:32:03 EDT 2018

 Educators face new challenges in 'superdiverse' classrooms where multiple
languages are spoken
Early Learning <http://edsource.org/topic/early-learning>May 2, 2018Ashley
Hopkinson <https://edsource.org/author/ahopkinson>
face new challenges in 'superdiverse' classrooms where multiple languages
are spoken: &summary=Researchers focused on classrooms where more than five
languages are spoken. &source=EdSource>
<https://www.newsmatch.org/organizations/edsource> <?subject=Sharing
Educators face new challenges in 'superdiverse' classrooms where multiple
languages are spoken&body=Just sharing this story from EdSource with you.
Alison Yin for EdSource
A new report explores 'superdiversity,' classrooms where at least five
different language groups are represented.

Teachers of English learners find it challenging to communicate in
classrooms where students come from a variety of language and cultural
backgrounds. Some children may speak Spanish at home, while others speak
Vietnamese, Punjabi or Arabic.

However, learning can improve by incorporating students’ languages in
classrooms, increasing teacher access to dictionaries and books in the home
languages of their students and encouraging families to participate in
class activities, such as parents recording themselves reading books in
their home languages for inclusion in a classroom library, where students
can listen to the recordings.

That is the conclusion of a new report
by the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research and policy
organization in Washington, D.C. It is the second in a series exploring
“superdiversity,” defined as classrooms where more than five languages are
spoken. The first report
in the series explores superdiversity in Head Start programs and private
and public preschools in Boston, Mass.

The most recent report, titled “Supporting Dual Language Learner Success in
Superdiverse PreK-3 Classrooms: The Sobrato Early Academic Language Model,”
focuses on how one California language program supports teachers and
students in superdiverse classrooms. The Sobrato Early Academic Language
Model, or SEAL
program, is designed to help students who speak a language other than
English at home develop a stronger vocabulary starting in preschool. The
SEAL model was piloted in bilingual and dual language settings as well as
English-only classroom settings. For the purpose of this study, researchers
focused on two superdiverse school districts in California that are using
the SEAL model: Oak Grove School District and San Lorenzo School District.

Researchers state that while California has a strong focus on bilingual and
dual-language programs for English learners, the challenges for teachers in
superdiverse classrooms is often left out of the conversation. “The binary
view of two language model settings (bilingual, dual language or English
instructed) reflected in policy
field guidance
and professional development
for teachers is inadequate,” the report states.

The report includes a survey of 173 teachers in the SEAL program and
highlights common challenges teachers face in superdiverse classrooms. It
also gives examples of strategies teachers have used through the SEAL model
to help students learn. The Seal Model is a pre-K-to-3rd-grade approach
that creates classroom environments where students have a variety of
avenues to develop language skills. For example, teachers use songs and
visual displays, such as flow charts and timelines. In younger grades,
children are encouraged to “name their world,” meaning they describe what
they see. They also use new vocabulary words as they dress up and imagine
themselves in different roles at dramatic play stations. SEAL classrooms
also have writing centers to encourage students to practice vocabulary and
write in daily journals. Currently, more than 100 schools statewide teach
English learners using this model.

The report found that one of the most common challenges teachers face is
difficulty communicating with families. One practice teachers found helpful
was to meet with families and explain the importance of using their home
language to increase their child’s vocabulary. In one classroom, students
were asked to work with their families to create a song about an ocean
animal and its habitat in their home language to encourage parents to talk
about class content at home.

In the SEAL program, teachers also used translation services so they could
provide materials to parents that explained what was being taught in their
classrooms. Teachers also invited parents and family members to read books
and sing songs to students in their home language.

The report also found that while many teachers can find common ground in
classrooms where two languages are spoken, with one of them being English,
it is more difficult to do that in settings where multiple languages and
cultures are represented.

For instance, in a typical bilingual classroom a teacher may switch between
Spanish and English to clarify a concept or give an instruction to a
specific group of students. However, in a superdiverse classroom, a teacher
may only be able to give one or two examples from the multiple languages
spoken and has to reserve more time for one-on-one student interactions, it

The report suggests providing teachers with resources, such as dictionaries
and reference materials, specific to the languages spoken in their
classrooms. Teachers should also have more access to books and visual aids
that reflect different cultures and languages. This is important “so
students see themselves reflected in the classroom and in the world of
books,” the report states.


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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