How to Manage Multilingual Classrooms Part 2: Training and Community

Sometimes, the primary language of the classroom is one that limits some teachers or learners.

This can be the case in international schools, multicultural environments, and jurisdictions with distinctive local identities.

The way that education systems respond to this challenge has a significant impact on both general learning outcomes and language integration. There are many factors at play:

  • High-level language policy
  • Access to language learning resources
  • Special training for teachers and administrators
  • Inclusive school culture and classroom management
  • Participation of families and communities
  • Adoption of technology

Part 1 of this series explored how policy, set by governments or institutions, shapes the experience of pupils and educators in such environments and affects outcomes. It also introduced some strategies for allocating resources and providing additional language instruction to produce the best results.

This article will deal with teacher training and school culture, and finally discuss some of the ways new technology is shifting the boundaries of best practice in multilingual classroom education.

How to train teachers to deal with multilingual classrooms

Even experienced teachers may run into difficulties when they step into a deeply multilingual classroom.

Issues of discipline and engagement can be exacerbated when the teacher doesn’t feel able to communicate fluidly with pupils. 

Teacher training needs to adapt to prepare teachers for the unique challenges of the multilingual classroom:

Cultural Responsiveness Training has evolved from mere cultural awareness. The focus is now on action, and teachers are also encouraged to challenge their own assumptions and biases.

This form of training prompts teachers to consider how different cultural norms and family life experiences can change the emotional responses and cognitive habits of different linguistic groups. Teachers learn to recognize acculturation stress in their pupils and modify lessons to promote a sense of belonging in the classroom.

Scaffolding Instruction plays a crucial role in helping teachers provide differentiated support to students with varying levels of language proficiency and prior knowledge.

Teachers may learn to provide sentence frames, word banks, or targeted vocabulary instruction to help students express their ideas and understand new concepts. The “release of responsibility” model encourages teachers to gradually step back as students become more confident and independent in their learning.

Teachers can also build on pupils’ prior knowledge and cultural experiences by connecting new concepts to familiar contexts or incorporating culturally relevant examples in their instruction.

Differentiated Instruction is another important strategy in multilingual classrooms.

Teachers might strategically group pupils for certain activities in order to maximize the benefits of peer collaboration between pupils with different levels of confidence and language proficiency. 

Promoting choice and autonomy empowers students to take ownership of their learning and engage more deeply with the material. By offering options in assignments, projects, or assessment methods, teachers can cater to individual learning styles and preferences, fostering a sense of agency and motivation in their multilingual students.

Principles of Design rarely form part of a traditional teacher training course, but their inclusion would be very beneficial for educators in multilingual classrooms.

Design thinking can guide teachers in organizing their instructional materials more clearly, helping them represent complex ideas visually, reducing cognitive load and enhancing comprehension. 

Well-designed visual aids can capture students’ attention and maintain their interest in the subject matter. In multilingual classrooms, engaging visuals can help bridge language gaps and encourage participation, even for students who may initially feel overwhelmed by language barriers.

Understanding Willingness to Communicate is essential for any teacher with pupils with complex needs. 

In such a module, teachers would learn about the common barriers that hinder students’ willingness to communicate, such as language anxiety, fear of making mistakes, lack of confidence, cultural differences, and perceived social status.

One key concept is to reinforce the idea that making mistakes is a natural part of the learning process. Teachers should develop skills like building rapport, celebrating small victories, and encouraging students to express themselves and take social risks in the classroom.

How to foster supportive and inclusive school environments

How to foster supportive and inclusive school environments

Classroom management can become more complex when both teachers and students are navigating a new language of instruction. To address this issue, teachers should balance firmness and consistency in their expectations with patience and understanding of students’ struggles.

A key consideration in multilingual education is whether to separate students into different classes based on language proficiency or maintain the same expectations for all students within a shared classroom. Schools may opt for a blended approach, using a combination of different class types and allowing teachers to provide differentiated assignments when appropriate.

Pupil agency is another vital aspect of fostering an inclusive school environment. When students set their own goals they can feel a sense of ownership of their learning and build confidence in their language abilities. This autonomy can lead to increased motivation and engagement in the learning process.

Incorporating peer mentors who are proficient in both languages can offer support to classmates by addressing language challenges and resolving misunderstandings. Schools can assign responsibilities to these mentors, such as leading small group discussions or assisting with language-focused activities. Peer mentorship helps schools foster an atmosphere where pupils learn from their shared experiences despite their varied linguistic backgrounds.

Finally, integrating cultural conversations into the curriculum can enrich students’ understanding of the diverse backgrounds within their school community. By promoting open discussion and creating opportunities for students to learn about different cultures and languages, schools can celebrate diversity in an authentic way.

The role of parents and communities

Parents and communities play an essential role in making multilingual education systems work.

Schools can begin by communicating effectively with families, ensuring that information is accessible in multiple languages. 

Identifying bilingual parents who are eager to participate in the school community opens the door for them to serve as cultural mediators, bridging gaps between various cultural and linguistic groups. Meanwhile, offering language classes for parents or organizing workshops that foster more frequent parent involvement can strengthen these relationships.

Collaborating with organizations that have established connections to certain communities can enhance the relationship between schools and families. These organizations may include cultural associations, local support groups, or other entities that share a common language with the parents and have an understanding of both their own and the host country’s culture and education system.

By forging these relationships, schools can address parents’ concerns about their children’s potential detachment from their cultural roots. These organizations can act as a bridge, fostering trust and understanding while ensuring parents feel their children’s cultural identity is acknowledged and preserved.

How can technology help in multilingual classrooms

How Technology Helps

Today, schools have a huge variety of digital tools to choose from that might help facilitate language learning and communication.

But when many of these technologies enter the classroom, the results are unpredictable. Teachers may find that screens and devices are a bigger distraction than a support. The truth is that research and practice in this area is still developing.

One area where solutions are more mature and reliable is in self-paced learning outside the classroom. When it comes to language learning, levels of confidence and willingness to communicate can have a huge impact on learning outcomes. Pupils need a way to confront the fear of falling behind, and teachers need a way to quickly identify which learners need extra time and attention.

Lingvist Classroom is the easiest way for a large group of students, or indeed teachers, to develop vocabulary and a sense of ownership and confidence in using a second language. You can create custom courses or use Lingvist’s own and get complete visibility of each learner’s progress.

Learn more about what Lingvist Classroom can do for your organization.

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