Translanguaging: One Monolingual Teacher’s Transfer of Power

It’s my first-year teaching third grade at ISB, and two kids are hunched over a math problem talking excitedly in Chinese. Still adjusting to teaching in a classroom where I can’t always easily jump into my bilingual students’ conversations, I ask, “Is this conversation helping your learning?” One child looks at me with sideways eyes and assures me that, yes, it is deepening their thinking around mathematics. The other child shimmies up to me a few minutes later to confess with all seriousness that they were actually talking about recess. I compliment him on his ability to notice how his conversation is supporting his learning (or not, as the case may be), and have a realization: my ineptitude to participate in my bilingual students’ talk actually empowers them to take a greater role in monitoring their discourse. Rather than taking on the role of the chatter-police, I can instead facilitate reflection on how conversations with peers support learning. As a monolingual teacher, I need to let go of control and acknowledge that my multilingual students bring a skill-set to their learning that I can actively encourage from the sidelines.
“Monolingualism is the illiteracy of the twenty-first century” according to Gregg Roberts from the American Councils for International Education. The linguistic capacity of our ISB students is a force that we teachers can harness no matter where we fall on the continuum of emergent bilingualism. While many ISB educators actually speak multiple languages, it is by no means a prerequisite for supporting our multilingual students. By seeking out opportunities for translanguaging, or “the deployment of a speaker’s full linguistic repertoire,” (Otheguy, 2015), we create conditions where children can bring their whole selves into the classroom for the betterment of their learning.
Translanguaging is a pedagogical tool that can be used to both scaffold and enhance. Erin Kent, literacy consultant, identifies a process for the intentional planning of translanguaging opportunities.
Begin by asking:
Is there anything about this content that might be inaccessible for some learners or might cause them to underperform because of limited target language ability?
If yes:
How might we have learners harness their linguistic repertoires to ensure that they’re working to their full cognitive abilities, not just their target language levels?
Consider the following as tools for scaffolding content through language:

  • Multilingual charts
  • Preview vocabulary
  • Strategic same-language partnerships
  • Multilingual texts
  • Family & community as resources
  • Multilingual turn-and-talks or discussions
  • Multilingual planning or journaling

If no…
 Are there any aspects of this topic/unit/lesson that make sense for learners to approach in their other languages? How might harnessing their linguistic repertoires enhance or enrich their learning?

  • Consider audience: How can we create for a multilingual world?
  • Choose topics related to identity
  • Compose bilingual texts
  • Metalinguistic word study
  • Cross language projects
  • Access primary sources

These days I know that I am faced with a choice. I can require my students to interact within the limitations of my own linguistic illiteracy, or I can put fresh eyes on my curriculum to identify small changes I can make to promote multilingualism. I can plan for children to use their language as a tool for their own learning, and when they make mistakes I can celebrate those instances as opportunities for reflection. I can give up a bit of control and expect that children will be whispering about recess instead of math from time to time. Because let’s face it, they’re eight, and they are going to be doing that regardless of the language.
Have a look at these resources from Erin Kent Consulting:
Planned Translanguaging Process
Honoring All Languages in Literacy
Amplifying Metalinguistic Awareness
Kent, Erin (2019) Infographic: Planned Translanguaging Process adapted from Eowyn Cresfield. Retrieved October 28., 2019
Otheguy, Ricardo, García, Ofelia & Reid, Wallis (2015). Clarifying translanguaging and deconstructing named languages: A perspective from linguistics. Applied Linguistics Review, 6(3), 281-307

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