Unpacking Language Acquisition with Educator Tan Huynh

In this ML Chat Podcast episode, hosts Justin Hewett and Mandi Morris interview Tan Huynh, an experienced educator specializing in English language acquisition. They discuss his teaching methods, collaboration in classrooms, his new book with Beth Skelton, and the importance of content learning and language development for multilingual learners. Tan also shares personal stories as a Vietnamese refugee, strategies for teaching newcomers and experienced multilinguals, and emphasizes student collaboration and clear instruction.

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Tan Huynh: [00:00:00] I think the gift of working with multilinguals is that they teach us to open our eyes. They help us see that they can. And then we just have to figure out how we can work with them. And how we can help their gifts be used in class so that their voices are heard. So that their ideas are seen. And so their identity is valued and highlighted. 

Justin Hewett: Hey everybody, welcome to the ML chat podcast. My name is Justin Hewett. I’ll be your host today. I’m here with my cohost, Mandi Morris. How you doing Mandi? 

Mandi Morris: I’m doing great. Thanks, Justin. 

Justin Hewett: We just had the best conversation with Tan Huynh. Yes, that Tan Huynh. Tan has an amazing podcast called the Teaching MLs Podcast that we’ve followed.

He just recently released a book with Beth Skelton, who we had here on the podcast before as well. The book is called Long Term Success for Experienced Multilinguals. This was such [00:01:00] a fabulous conversation, Mandi. What was your favorite part? 

Mandi Morris: I love how Tan just, he keeps it real. So this is an example of how to apply this, and this is why it matters for students to do X, Y, and Z.

He makes things feel approachable and that teachers can just get started on Monday. 

Justin Hewett: Tan brings great energy. He has a lot of passion for the work. He tells his story a little bit of how he came to the U S from Vietnam as a young child and kind of the crazy experiences that he and his family went through to arrive to the, in the Philippines and then eventually to the United States.

And anyways, we’re grateful that, that they made that journey. We’re grateful that, that he came on here and shared just so many great Practical applications of how to accelerate language development. And it’s one thing I feel like a lot of times when we look at these different books and we talk to authors and whatnot, there’s so much, there’s so much theory and there’s so many [00:02:00] different wonderful ideas that you can then come and apply yourself and try to figure out how to apply.

Tan and Beth have made it easy and really Tan in this, in our conversation here today. There’s just so much great application and it just makes it really approachable. 

Mandi Morris: I agree. And I think you’re going to really enjoy the podcast. The listeners are in for a treat today. 

Justin Hewett: They are. Let’s get to it. Tan Huynh is a secondary school teacher specializing in English language acquisition, an author, podcaster, and consultant.

He’s taught students from 5th grade to 10th grade in domestic, public, private, and charter schools, while most of his experience has been serving in international schools. He also taught social studies and currently spends much of his days co planning and co teaching. Tan is trained in sheltered instruction, WIDA, culturally responsive instruction, international baccalaureate middle years program, and the collaborative instructional cycle.

Tan shares his application of [00:03:00] research based strategies on his blog, on his podcast, and online courses with the hopes of celebrating teachers who answer the calling to serve multilingual learners. He holds a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction specializing in language acquisition. You can learn more about his work by going to his website tankhuynh.

com. And that’s spelled T A N K H U Y N H dot com. Tan, welcome to the ML chat podcast. We’re so glad you’re here. 

Tan Huynh: Hola, Suostei, Sawadee Kha. I said hello in Spanish, hello in Thai, and hello in Khmer. I could say a few more languages, but I won’t. 

Justin Hewett: Oh, let’s go. I wonder how many languages we could actually get, the three of us here.


Tan Huynh: a lot, I’m sure. 

Justin Hewett: Exactly. We’re thrilled to have you here. Mandi and our whole team here at Flashlight has been looking over the book that you and Beth Skelton wrote together. Long term success for experienced multilinguals. And there is just so much good stuff in here. [00:04:00] It’s, this is amazing. It’s going to do a lot of good in a lot of classrooms all throughout the nation.

Tan Huynh: We’re so honored by the reception when it came out in May, they ordered enough for the first. Printing it sold out in July. And they’re like, what did you do? Did my mom go out, buy all the books, 

Justin Hewett: all of them, 

Tan Huynh: all of them for her knitting group. Yes. And her card game group. Yes. But we were shocked and we call this our running book.

We have to put our sneakers on and we’re running from city to city, country to country. And we’re getting the second book out. Like the first book is for content teachers. The second book is that immediately people were like, Hey, I’m an EAL specialist or I’m an English language specialist and I have my own dedicated class.

Well, what do I do in that class? So because we were hearing this so much, we’re writing the second book on that specific topic. What do you do when you don’t have a curriculum and you’re an English language specialist and you have 45 minutes, you have 20 minutes, you have 90 minutes to work with your MLs.

What do you do in this period? And so [00:05:00] we’re currently writing that. book and so I’ll be disappearing and going to lots of coffee shops to write. 

Mandi Morris: Oh, Tan, that’s awesome. I can’t wait to read that. 

Tan Huynh: Thank you. We’re excited. 

Justin Hewett: That’s going to be a cliffhanger for everybody listening. They’re going to be like, wait, no, I want to know.

What do I do in that 20 minutes? You got to get the book when it comes out. 

Tan Huynh: Then the conversation of I’ve already planned to talk specifically about the book, so you don’t need to buy the book in four years, two and a half, if we write it well, I will share you tips specifically from that book and the current book that you have now.

Justin Hewett: That is fantastic. You shouldn’t be surprised by the reception. It’s really well put together and just has so many important takeaways that. A lot of our listeners have picked up the book and have looked into it already. So I think you’re talking to your people here in a large way. 

Tan Huynh: Could I ask you a kind of reverse interview?

Justin and Mandi, what is one thing that you have seen people like about the book or like a light bulb moment? 

Mandi Morris: I think something that really stands apart in your book is how much [00:06:00] application there is. So yes, there’s theory, but there’s a ton of application and everything is supported with anecdotal stories of this is a scenario.

And as a teacher, you’re reading, you’re like, yes, I have been there. And then what do I do? How do I solve for that? And you lean in a lot to the co teaching collaborating space, which I feel like is so needed right now because a lot of schools are moving in that direction or are there, and teachers are trying to grapple with how do we do this and how do we do it well.

And I think that your book just speaks to that in such an applicable and relevant way. 

Tan Huynh: That was the goal. We said, okay, we already have WIDA. We already have Center for Applied Linguistics. We already have SIOP. How do we put this in a way that’s like accessible for the science teacher? For the math teacher?

For the social studies teacher? If you tell me another ABIO phrase, or like another gerund, or another compound sentence ain’t gonna work in my science class. You need to show me how to [00:07:00] work with multilinguals. I have to teach them cyanobacteria in 45 minutes. What do I do? And Beth and I sat down and we said, we have to take the best out of these and put it into a really clear framework, which is the orchard framework.

So I guess the orchard is just a visual. We start off with saying, because of that, we were like, teachers are going to get lost in the leaves because of all our like language. So we pulled it back to say, Oh, let’s not get lost. By the leaves, we need to write them a book that they can see the whole forest for the trees.

And then Beth is, Oh, it’s not just a forest. It’s an orchard because then there’s output and input. I’m like, Oh, Beth. Yes. 

Justin Hewett: What beautiful imagery. I love that. Yeah. And I think I’d piggyback a little bit on what Mandi said is just the application to me is what stood out the most. I’ve looked at so many of these different books through the years and there’s so much theoretical.

There’s so much work that. If everything was perfect, that would be a great [00:08:00] approach. But the reality is you have to allow for the messiness that is in the classroom and that everybody’s coming at this work with different assets and the students are coming with all of their different experiences and their different assets.

And so that’s what I think is most impressive to me is just the ability to apply it to so many different situations because it’s so practical. 

Tan Huynh: Oh, that just warms my heart. Cause like Beth and I, we write. With not knowing who is going to have this book, who’s going to read it. And to have you say such kind words, like I’m getting chills, people in the podcast, you can’t see, but I’m getting chills, 

Justin Hewett: I think it’s a part of, you’ve done a lot of work in this space for a lot of years, your podcast, you just reached 200 episodes.

That’s a pretty significant milestone and shows a lot of consistency. And you’ve just shown up for our community in such a big way in serving multilingual learners. And so we’re grateful to have you on and celebrate the work that you’ve done. And even. Maybe more importantly, the work that you’re currently doing and just super engaged in is, but I want to go back.

I want to understand what drew you to [00:09:00] this work. How did you get started? Like when we go back in the way back machine, like where does that take us? And what drew you to this work? 

Tan Huynh: The way back machine took you to the fall of Saigon, the fall of South Vietnam, when North Vietnam, the communist. North Vietnamese came and took over South Vietnam.

We had to escape because we were supporting the U. S. Army and the U. S. forces. And so my mom was blacklisted and all of her children were blacklisted. We would have been put into very specific re education camps or very specific programs. We were blacklisted from using services such as hospitals, education systems.

And so we were targeted as part of the quote unquote, the people who need to be re educated. People who were. Suspicious. So my mom was like, no, we ain’t doing that. She’s like a tiger mother. And she put us on a little boat. The boat is the, probably the size of your house, 35 feet wide, 25 to let me 15 [00:10:00] feet in length and width, but it fit 27 people in, we had women and children down below.

We had a secret compartment for the secret compartment and everyone. Because of the motion sickness. It was hard women and children are only allowed up at night because of pirates. The pirates knew that the people who were fleeing with gold sewn into their collars, sewn into their hems so that when they, where they get to, wherever they get to, they can have money to survive.

So that’s the kind of life we, we had. So I’m thinking about the kids who are refugees now, like from Ukraine, from Somalia, from Syria. So these kids are the kids that were just like me. We’re just a different error. My, we were lucky enough to go to, we were rescued on the ninth day. We only had enough food and water for the seventh day, but we were lucky enough to.

Get rescued by them, a Malaysian fishing boat, which then [00:11:00] dragged us to a Malaysian Navy boat, which then rescued us and put us on board. We were maybe a meal away or a cup away from death. Most of us had fainted. Out of starvation. Everyone was telling me when I left the boat, when I was carried off, it was like a, they called it a limp chicken.

Like the head was like propped and everything we were close to death. And we were lucky enough to go to the Philippines. I’m always indebted to the Filipino people. I know Justin, you worked in the Philippines and they took us up, put us in a refugee camp, housed us, fed us. And then we were then transferred to the U S we’re very fortunate by the Lutherans.

Anybody Lutherans out there. Thank you so much. They helped us by putting us in a place, sponsoring us, getting us enrolled in school, getting my sister, my brothers and my mother jobs and helping us with the first year, a lot of people were so indebted. And my story starts with not knowing English. I was at fifth, I [00:12:00] was at age five.

So I just miss kindergarten. So they put me in kindergarten late around October, I think, and I went throughout the year, not knowing anything. I loved school so much. I loved my friends. I loved my teacher. I still know her name, Ms. Phillips. There was always a hug and a greeting at the door. I don’t know what my friends were saying, but I know that I was speaking Vietnamese as if they were going to speak Vietnamese back to me.

I loved it so much that I went to kindergarten twice. I was the oldest. 

Justin Hewett: That was great, though, for you. 

Tan Huynh: It was a wonderful experience. And then I stayed in ESL until grade 4. At the end of grade 4, I graduated to grade 5. But let me tell you the reason why I rebooked this book is because for students who have been in the ESL program and has received services, I was not able to read a book.

This is the story. My fifth grade teacher said, okay, reading time, go to your designated buckets of library books and go find a [00:13:00] book. And I was shuffling through and I saw this book called The Cat Who Went to Heaven. It’s a picture of a Japanese tea garden with the artist and then in front of him, he’s kneeling and there’s a cat.

And in front of the cat they’re drawing pictures. And I was like, oh my goodness, finally a book with not about pilgrims. And I was like, yes, for me. And so I started reading, but also it was a, it was the book, the thinnest book out of the collection, the ones with the biggest font. I was like, yes, that’s one of those students and I would read it.

And I would put my head down and I would count like this, the minutes to, cause I couldn’t barely read. I would count the minutes. Oh, that’s a minute. Let me flip to the next page. And once in a while I would just go chicka. I was like, I would laugh and I would fake read because I could, I could Decode every single word in that book, most of it, but I couldn’t make meaning out of it.

And so the book that Beth and I wrote, and this is not a marketing book, don’t worry because Beth and I, [00:14:00] we get 2. Then we get to split that 2 and that dollar is taxed. So it’s 70 cents a book. Let me tell you, I don’t, if I want to get more money, I’ll make more money. I might as well work at Zara. And have a company discount and have a really nice wardrobe every single season.

We write the book because of students like me. The fact that I was in the U. S. school, I’ve only gone to U. S. schools. And how did I end up not being able to read a fifth grade text? And that’s this book. 

Justin Hewett: Thank you for taking us in your way back, Machine. I cannot believe that experience that you went through with your mom and with your family.

One of my mentors is Vin Huynh. He was the ESL director in Des Moines Public Schools for a lot of years. And Vin is, he’s a great man and did so much work in the community there in Des Moines. But he told me about his experience come over, coming over when he was 18. And it was Not too different from your experience.

And when he got to Des Moines and he was the [00:15:00] youngest in his family. And so I remember when he came over, he like, he was like, grateful to be here, but he missed his family so much and was trying to like navigate all of the emotions of surviving and being here and needing to learn a new language and new cultures and all those things.

Tan Huynh: And the guilt of leaving those behind us. 

Justin Hewett: Right. 

Tan Huynh: And you said he was grateful. And I also, so I shared my gratitude to the Philippines, but I also want to say thank you to the American government who spent millions of dollars to get all of us out and rehoused in different places and situated. So I’m a proud American.

I know we’re having interesting conversations around immigration in the US, but I just want to say to the American government and American people, thank you. I hope that as an immigrant, that I’m contributing to the way that Americans would like. 

Justin Hewett: And I think your work is helping a lot of teachers, a lot of students.

I think there’s a lot of value there. And it makes sense, right? That you were drawn into this work. It was a mission that really spoke to you and was something where you felt like [00:16:00] you, you had an unfair advantage or an insight that you could really help provide even more. Expertise and kind of help to teachers doing this work.

Tan Huynh: There are no accidents in this universe. 

Justin Hewett: Exactly. I understand that’s what kind of drew you in to get started. And I guess I’d love to just understand what about on your teaching journey and serving multilingual learners? How did you get started in that piece of the work? 

Tan Huynh: I got very lucky to be invited to work with Teach for America in New Orleans.

Beautiful. Right after Katrina, the year after Katrina, I went down there and I served in English language literature. I came there and they’re like, Oh, you, are you the new math teacher? I was like, no, trust me. You don’t want me to teach math. I can barely add three digits together. So I was the English language teacher.

And then I realized like all of these. Students who weren’t fluent English, they were speaking Spanish. Some of them were speaking Creole, some were Vietnamese, and they came there to rebuild the [00:17:00] city. And I was shocked. I was like, this is English language literature. Why do this? Most of my students don’t know English.

I would say half. And then I was like, wow, I realized there was a field of ESL. There was an ESL teacher in my school. And so he would take kids from different periods and then work with them. And I was like, this is what I want to do. And I was lucky enough to go abroad. Both Justin and Mandi have experiences where they worked abroad and served abroad.

When I went there, I got a chance to work with all students who are learning multiple languages at the same time. And then that’s the lucky. The lucky path to working with multilinguals now. 

Mandi Morris: So you’ve been overseas for how long now? Like that transition took you overseas. How long have you been an international teacher?

Tell us a little bit about what that has been like for you. 

Tan Huynh: Oh, I worked in the U S for three years, four total, sorry, four. And then I went abroad and this is my 13th year. [00:18:00] 17th year of teaching 13th year of being abroad. And I love it. If you ever get a chance, it’s fabulous because of all the experiences that you get, I hear the things that happen in American public schools.

And my heart breaks for my colleagues in America, the lack of funding, the closing of programs, the consolidation of schools, all these things that are happening that are outside of their control often do not happen in the In schools and international schools because they’re it’s highly resourced. So I, my class load, I have six students that I work with in my class, but I work with two, three grade levels.

That’s 300 students that I co teach with, and none of them are on my roster except for six students that I particularly teach. This would be unimaginable in the U. S. Instead of going between one class to the next, I know my colleagues in America are running between one building to the [00:19:00] next across the country.

Their district. So my heart goes out to them. So I’m sure we’ll figure out a way, but American teachers are fabulous. They’re making their path. 

Mandi Morris: Yes. In your book, going back to the analogy of the orchard, you talk about the content classroom being the most fertile soil for students to learn language. I would love to hear you talk about that a little bit more and your experience as a co teacher, what have you observed?

And Why do you say that it’s the most fertile place for a student to learn language? 

Tan Huynh: Oh my goodness, Mandi, you read the book and not just like the Amazon reviews. Thank you. There are only 34 people. We need more. I’m kidding. I thoroughly enjoyed your book. Oh, thank you. Why is content so important? It’s because the way that I learned English was through memorization of English rules.

Here’s a verbal phrase. Here’s a subordinated conjunction. Let’s go write about it and let’s use, let’s write about your puppy. I don’t have a puppy. Let’s write about your weekend. [00:20:00] I worked at a sweatshop over the weekend. Like what? No. So it was acquiring our language by learning how it works. When we have students in content classes, students are applying the language in authentic purposes.

So let me give you an example. I had a student who, his name is Yang Hong, fabulous student. At the time I met him, he was in seventh grade. He came from China, highly literate. And Our model of instruction is not to pull students out, it’s to have them in content classes and then there’s collaboration between me and my content colleagues to make that lesson accessible, to make learning accessible, and to structure the output.

So the unit was, okay, Mr. James, fabulous social studies teacher, the new unit was on how do humans impact reverse systems. And the context was the Mekong River, because we were living in Laos at the time. And so students learned, read articles, watched videos, we visited the Mekong River, we had experts in, [00:21:00] and look at all the language that’s there.

Even if it’s incomprehensible for him, there’s still language and he can still learn slowly through it. The assessment was this. Each student had to write a different report on a different river system. They had to find out how that river system, how humans have impacted that river system. I was about to say, oh, should we pull him out?

Do you want him to do the assessment? And James was like, absolutely. We’re not changing anything. The standards are the same because I have to grade him. I cannot grade him on anything else because I don’t have anything else to grade him with. So we said this, okay, so he’s going to pick his own and he picked the Yangtze river.

Then he went and researched how humans have impacted the Yangtze river or the yellow river in China, and he used sources in Mandarin. He read articles, he watched multiple videos and he summarized it and synthesized it just like his other colleagues. Then the [00:22:00] output was to write an essay, but because of his language level, We said, can he do something else to still communicate in English, but do it at a more accessible level.

So we took his notes and we use Google translate. He put it in Google translate and it put it in English for him. And then he used the text into his Google slides. He added pictures. Then he recorded him saying the annotations. And then he spliced the pictures together to make a voiceover documentary.

We were shocked because I didn’t have time to help him through much of this project. Like I gave him instructions to clearly how to do it. And I said, I’m just praying that he’s able to do it. I came back and he had the video done. I was so shocked. He learned words and I still remember the word he used the word arid.

And no one taught him the word arid. But the fact that he knew that. it in Mandarin. He took it from Mandarin, brought it back into English. He also used the four [00:23:00] words before the dam, then after the dam. So he knows a lot. Cause and effect. He knows sequencing. He knows subordinating conjunctions. He was learning language in a way that was authentic, but more importantly, it affirmed his identity.

Instead of pulling him out and saying, oh child, you’re gonna go color pictures of the river and that’s about it. Pat on your back, pobrecito. He was doing the same work, the same rigorous kind of work, the same curriculum as everyone else. He felt like he was everyone else. He felt like he was Not less than he felt like he was just like, 

Mandi Morris: And Tan, I think you bring up something really powerful.

There is making the connection with background knowledge here at flashlight. Justin will say this all the time is that this, the company, this mission statement, the ethos of what we’re doing is that students come with assets. So we’re shining a light on all of the assets and it’s. Having the assumption that our students are bringing [00:24:00] background knowledge.

It’s for us to figure out in creative and novel ways as you did with your colleague. How can we make the connection for students? Where is that ramp for onboarding? What does it look like? And how can we get creative? And that brings me to my next question. When you work with colleagues in collaborative environments and you get this like hot potato experience where it’s, I’m the math teacher.

That’s not my job to figure out language and the ELD specialists. I’m the ELD specialist. It’s not my job to figure out math. Who is going to take ownership here? How do you solve for that? Because we know this is a real pressing need and a US schools right now with co teaching. 

Tan Huynh: When I work with colleagues, I focus on two lenses.

First lens is comprehensible input. How can we get this content, this math content, acute triangles. obtuse triangles, equilateral triangles, how can we make it accessible to students? And then output. Once students understand the comprehension, what do these [00:25:00] things mean, then we can have students communicate about them.

They can draw acute triangles, they can draw equilateral triangles, they can draw Obtuse triangles. And when I collaborate with my colleagues, I don’t need to know every single content, and I shouldn’t. But my job is to say, how can students comprehend at the word level, at the sentence level, at the organization level?

Once we get that, everything is so much more easier. So my content, like my colleague’s job is to understand the content and make it, and to understand the sequencing of it. My job is to help students understand it. And communicate about it. 

Mandi Morris: When you think about co teaching, schools are often, they started this place of, we want to have co teaching, we want to move away from standalone classes, especially for experienced multilingual learners.

And then the next piece is, but where do we start? And I think of that often as a coworker reminds him, Blackburn would often say like, where are your willing [00:26:00] partners? Start there. Start where your willing partners are. Another way of thinking about it, I’ve heard directors say, what are our co teachers?

classes where we have EOCs or state language or state assessments that are really important for graduation for students. What are your thoughts about where do you start? Is there a specific content that you find co teaching and collaborative teaching works best or do you have a criteria that you follow to figure out where to start?

Tan Huynh: Where do you start best when working, supporting multilingual learners is preferably in my Bias, because I was a social studies teacher, is social studies, or humanities. There’s the ability to combine reading, writing, speaking, listening together. And when we learn about social experience like we learn about geography, we learn about world events, there are people, there are events, there are statistics.

There’s so much ability for students to read, write, and speak, and listen. But we start there, but then we don’t stop there. We expand to science. Then we expand to math, and we expand to [00:27:00] even design. Thank you. So I’m responsible to be working with my 8th graders in design class, and in art class, and music class.

So let me give you an example. One day, my teacher had students learn about the different elements of art, and apply it to a sculpture that they’re going to create. My job was to say, okay, I don’t know anything about the elements of art, but as I learned them, my job was to help students see how the artist applied lines.

How the artists apply texture, how the artists use shape and spacing so that the students are able to do that, right? Again, when we work with our colleagues, where do we start? We start at comprehension. And then where do we continue? We continue at comprehension. 

Justin Hewett: I love that. I think that’s so good. And I also love, Mandi, what you shared from Tim.

Start with your willing colleagues. I think you put those two together and you’re in a good spot. And there’s one thought that I’m sitting here as I’m thinking, cause I think we’re teaching some pretty high [00:28:00] level concepts as we’re going through as, as far as using language, teaching language and content, and I want to boil it down to a set essence.

Tan, if you don’t mind, why is it important to teach language or that students learn language through content? 

Tan Huynh: It’s so important for students to learn language through content because it gives them a reason to communicate. It gives them a reason to learn the content. So they’re going to have to. Listen to others.

They’re going to have to read. They’re going to have to talk to others about the content, but then they’re going to also going to have to communicate about the content. So they’ll have to write, they’ll have to speak, they’ll have to present something, create something. It gives, it moves from learning language rules to applying language to communicate your ideas, to be understood.

So here is. And example going back to the river example, my exam hall was learning how to synthesize ideas. From Mandarin into English. And then [00:29:00] he wrote it in English, but he learned, he had the ability to learn the word arid. He had the ability to say, ah, before the dam. So that’s a subordinate conjunction there.

It just makes learning more relevant. It gives students a voice. It gives them a purpose to use language instead of memorizing language. 

Justin Hewett: And I love that. And I think there’s just so much to being able to have that content specific vocabulary. When I think about, I served a mission in the Philippines for two years, and I just loved learning Tagalog.

And I was working so hard on like, how do I said every word and how I communicated. And then I had a, one of the people I was there serving with ended up needing to be in the hospital. And so when in the hospital, all of a sudden it was a very different language than I thought I had learned. And so I think having that content specific vocabulary, like learning the language through content is really important because.

As you get into these different situations, the language will change. 

Tan Huynh: And that’s why it’s so important. Let me add to what you’re saying. When we [00:30:00] want to have students learn content, because that’s the highest form. That’s the highest evidence of student understanding. The, if you were to, I can tell it a doctor who understands their content, when they use scientific terms to talk about my body or to talk about the symptoms, if they simply say the thing on your elbow kind of is not, it’s not connected to this other thing.

I’m like, I’m done. Find me another doctor. 

Justin Hewett: I need a second opinion. 

Tan Huynh: Yes. I need like 20 opinions. Right? So when we have content and students are using content, we can actually say, yes, they understand. But more importantly, it’s actually connected to equity. When we say, Oh, you don’t have to learn about the different parts of the body.

We say you can only learn this much. And then their world is this size. But if we say, no, Zhang Hong, I believe that you can learn about river systems and how humans have impacted them. You can go learn and you’re going to learn in [00:31:00] different ways. There are different pathways. I think the gift of working with multilinguals is that they teach us to open our eyes.

They help us see. that they can. And then we just have to figure out how we can work with them and how we can help their gifts be used in class so that their voices are heard so that their ideas are seen and there, so their identity is valued and highlighted. 

Justin Hewett: It feels like when you really focus on teaching language or content, you’re able to have higher expectations.

Tan Huynh: Yes. Keep going, Justin. That’s it. 

Justin Hewett: I’m just thinking that because for example, you mentioned that the student ended up showing that they had the word for arid, which showed that they had it in Mandarin as well and brought it with them into English, but I’m just thinking that ultimately, if you’re confining them to just learning language in a vacuum, it doesn’t put them in a situation where they’re expected to rise up.[00:32:00] 

To figure out this new content and become resourceful and digging deeper. And so it just feels like you can have higher expectations. 

Tan Huynh: And when you have higher expectations, students will rise to that. I think that my greatest mind shift that I ever had, I am indebted to SIOP, the authors of SIOP, the Shelton Instruction Observation Protocol.

They said one word, can do. When you shift, the way I was describing my students is they can’t, no, they can’t do this. She can’t say, can I go to the bathroom? She can’t even say the days of the week. Why are you making her learn about migration? Now I go back and say, oh, what can she do with the languages that she already has?

What can I do to help her understand? What can I do to help her communicate her understanding? It’s a totally a mind shift. And when we hold students to learning content. We hold ourselves to say, I’m going to teach you at that level so that you get it. 

Mandi Morris: Tan, you talk [00:33:00] so much in your book about experienced multilingual learners, and I would love to hear you unpack some how you think about best practices for newcomers, which is a real hot topic in the U.

S. right now. We have certain states and areas receiving a huge influx of newcomers and school districts feeling a little bit ill equipped to be able to know how do I manage my resources to meet the needs of these students. Or we spoke with a school district that said, We had for many years students who were coming from a background heritage language of Spanish, but now we’re having a huge influx of Vietnamese students and we don’t have the resources to translate this and this.

So what are your thoughts about best practices for newcomers versus experienced multilingual learners? What does that look like for you? 

Tan Huynh: The best practices for newcomers is the input output protocol. It’s something new that [00:34:00] Beth and I created. We realized what is working when we work with newcomers.

It’s the input output protocol is basically imagine a pizza. Our metaphor is a pizza pie. When we order pizza, which is like my favorite, it’s like my comfort food. Like I’m always happy when I have some pizza. It doesn’t come in a gigantic pan. It comes in a pan that’s cut up into eight pieces. We eat one at a time and the input output cycle protocol is there has to be some input that is miniature enough for them to understand.

And then there has to be an immediate output. So let me go back to Zhang Hong. He was in eighth. He was in seventh grade science. And the, that day there’s, they were learning about balance and imbalance. And so this is what I did. I sat next to him. I had him open up his laptop. I had him go to Google translate.

I typed in the words balance and imbalance. Unbalance. He got those words in, in Mandarin. And I said, show me you understand. I’m going to put my hand out. Show [00:35:00] me imbalance. And he put his hand, well, I did it. I did it first. I said, show me your hand. He said, Hong, this is balance. Say balance. And then I said, I’m going to show you imbalance.

This is imbalance. I pushed his hand down and said, look, imbalance. Now that I pushed his hand back up again, I say, now this is balance. And I said, can you do it for me? Then he went, balance. He said, now what’s next? And he pushed down and he said, unbalance. That’s input output in 30 seconds. When we want newcomers to learn, they are not, they might be new to English, but they’re not new to languages.

Zeng Hong was not new to Mandarin. So I use his Mandarin to make sure he understood balance and unbalance. The second he got it, that was 30 seconds. Okay. of that. We then closed our laptop. We went to the lab station where everybody else was working around so that he joined the class and did exactly what they did.

Just like Justin said, he was learning content. His language was building. He [00:36:00] now added the word balance and imbalance into his vocabulary in a meaningful way. And he wasn’t taking out of class. He was learning the same thing. Kids saw him just like him, like everyone else. Teachers saw that. My teacher saw that his responsibility was to also teach Zhang Hong with collaboration with me.

So that’s how you work with newcomers. Input output cycle, but think about giving a student one slice of the pizza at a time. 

Mandi Morris: I feel like that reminds me of chunking, right? So, take the overall concept and chunk down what are the main learning objectives, what’s the standard that you’re covering, and making sure that you’re still hitting those standards and those learning objectives even with newcomers.

Tan Huynh: And the way I tell teachers is, when you use that chunking method, chunk out the word. What word does the student have to know? Then chunk out this, and then use that word in a sentence. So, Zeng Hong might have needed to know, this is balanced because. So he just learned the word [00:37:00] balance, but he needed to know balance.

Because. This caused an imbalance. So that’s the sentence structure of commas. So now he’s using these words in context. He’s learning content and whatever he has to put after the comma or the because shows me he understands. And that’s a wonderful example, Justin, of when you, why do you teach content? Why do we teach language with content is because it gives the opportunities for engagement.

Content gives students the opportunity to engage in reading, speaking, listening, and writing. 

Mandi Morris: Tan, you have here, I’m going to read just a really small quote from your book. As experienced multilinguals reach higher levels of English proficiency, their English development needs become less obvious, but the academic language demands continue to increase.

And we as teachers see this where I know working with content teachers over the years, they would say, I don’t understand why so and so is failing this class because I see him in the hallway and [00:38:00] he’s. Hanging out and communicating with his friends and it just doesn’t make sense. And it’s the difference between the cognitive load of content classes in high school and social language to completely different things.

And I think we are doing a better job separating those and having professional learning around them. What are your thoughts about how can ELD specialists help content teachers? How do they have that conversation? I’m an ELD specialist. I’m trying to work with the math teacher, the science teacher in high school.

Give me some language time so that I can go in and have that conversation and really help them understand that. 

Tan Huynh: In chapter four, give me, okay, so when an ELD teacher works with their content teachers, this is what they can do. A quick three minute conversation. They can say, what question do you want your students to be able to answer by the end of the day?

Or the exit prompt. Mandi, what subject did you teach? 

Mandi Morris: I was an ELD specialist and an ELA teacher. 

Tan Huynh: Okay, so let’s [00:39:00] say poems, because you teach ELA, right? At the end of this class, what do you want students to know about the Diamante poem? And you would say, I want my students to be able to know this. Perfect.

Can you give me a model response of what that looks like? Oh, yes. They would say a diamante poem has a shape of a diamond. They start, and it gets bigger and bigger, and then the biggest part is the middle, and then it gets smaller until the end, ending with a word. The poem starts with a single word. The poem ends with a single word.

Oh, perfect. Great. Now I know how, what students do. I’m going to work on having students comprehend that. And then I’m going to help students write a diamante just like that. So that you’re going to go and teach the content, as I already know how I’m going to help Justin as he’s learning Vietnamese for the first time.

Right, and so I’m going to have him, Justin’s going to learn how to write a Vietnamese poem in a diamante, and I’m going to help him. Oh, a diamante has the first line has one word. Let’s focus on one word, and then we expand on that. [00:40:00] Again, that’s the comp, like, input, output. When ELD teachers work with their content teachers, the conversation starts with, what do you want your students to know?

And then how do you want them to communicate it? 

Mandi Morris: It’s really breaking it down, even for the ELD specialists, in a sense, to have a frame. They have a sentence frame to go and work with the content teacher to feel like, I know that we’re going to break this down. We’re chunking it for teachers too, not just for students.

Because what I, that’s illuminating for me because there’s the overwhelm of how in the world am I going to fit in all of these chapters into this semester? And teachers are already muddling through that, right? And it’s really creating that same acceptance and space. We’re going to chunk it down. What do students need to know?

What is the learning objective here for this unit? What do they need to walk away with? And allowing teachers that space and also grace to just one step at a time to attack those learning objectives. 

Tan Huynh: And [00:41:00] notice how we didn’t say, Oh, Justin can’t learn the Dai Man Te poem in Vietnamese. This is his first day in Vietnam.

No, we’re saying, Oh, okay, we’re going to have him learn that, but we’re going to make sure the instruction is clear. And when Dr. Brené Brown says clear, is kind. We are not lowering the rigor. That is causing educational equity and gaps in their learning. We’re simply saying now, please provide clear instructions.

I’m going to work with you to provide clear instructions. And when that is clear, students feel like they’re treated kindly and They feel like they’re welcomed and they can feel successful. And when they feel successful, when they feel competent, they’ll become more confident and schools become a place that affirms them instead of isolates them.

So our work, I know that in this field, we work with multilinguals and it looks like it’s a language acquisition. It’s language acquisition plus identity affirmation. That’s what we’re [00:42:00] doing. They already are affirmed as people. We just have to see their assets, highlight them, and then apply them and say, Oh, you can use your assets to make content more accessible.

You can use your assets for us to understand what you’re saying. So we also know what ideas you have. 

Justin Hewett: And I think it’s interesting to see students really gain that confidence as they build their language and they build their language competency. And one of the things that was interesting to me is I feel like.

Some folks have a different personality when they learn a different language. In that new language, they might be more playful or they might be more demonstrative or whatever it might be. And so it is interesting that I think there is some interesting identity there that does go along with language and the learning of language.

I wanted to shift gears here for a second, go a little bit deeper, maybe, on this topic and just, I’m just thinking that across the nation right now, newcomers is definitely a hot topic. In addition to [00:43:00] that, we have a lot of experienced English learners, right? We have a lot of students who’ve been in our systems for a number of years.

And I guess, what is it that you’re seeing or what have you noticed where, in districts where, maybe students are acquiring social language pretty quickly, but that academic language, that content specific language tends to lag. And what does that come down to? How much of that is the student?

How much of that is the system? How much of that is the teacher? If you don’t mind, we’d love to have you unpack that. 

Tan Huynh: Oh, that’s a big question, Justin. What I’m seeing around the US and internationally is that student teachers say, I don’t understand why time is like this. He’s been in our schools since kindergarten twice, and this is, he’s in fifth grade, and he still doesn’t understand what is going on.

I was lucky enough where the learning support or special education wasn’t that [00:44:00] prevalent at that time. If not, I would have been referred. To special education. And I’m sure I invented ADHD, but I should have, I might have been misidentified and then services added when I didn’t need them. Me taking it, been taken out of classes when I should have been, when really we talked about the place that the multilingual learner needs to be the most to learn language is in content classes when we’re pulled out of that for.

ESL class, for learning support class, we lose opportunities to do that authentically. What I’m seeing is that, that there is a unfortunate point referring of students to learning support disproportionately to their population. And that comes to not understanding the differences between social language and academic language.

One of the books that I’m currently reading, and I read last year, that has transformed My teaching is called the writing revolution. [00:45:00] I used to teach writing through grammar practices and they’ll get grammar eventually. And I realized, Oh, I’m teaching language at the leaf level. I need to teach it at the branch level.

And the branch is a, is not a, It’s not a word level. It’s the sentence level. Let me just share a sentence. For example, my students are, have learned about a positives. So it sounds like this. It sounds like Justin, a resident of Utah, comma, used to serve in missions in the Philippines. Or I would say Mandi, comma, a skilled interior decorator, comma used to teach in Bahrain and South Korea.

That’s a really com, those are complex sentence structures. But when we teach. Students that they become more academic and it goes back to your question. I know I’m going around and around like your question is what are you seeing and then why is that what I’m seeing is Teachers don’t realize that academic language is so complex.

Like [00:46:00] just those sentence pattern, I gave you the positive sentence pattern. If a student, we don’t speak like that in real life. When you’re talking with me and my mom at my kitchen table, we’re not saying Justin comma, a resident of. 

Justin Hewett: Only when you’re talking into your phone to type the text, right? Or talk to text.

Tan Huynh: And so that’s so out of context. We learn language first socially, but social language has a different pattern than academic language. And that’s why we have to teach. So instead of referring students to learning support and saying, something’s wrong with you, you’re lazy, you’re apathetic, your family doesn’t care.

We simply say, Oh, what kind of language that the student needs to produce? Oh, he needs to write with an appositive? Okay, I’ll teach him how to write with an appositive. And we teach there. We don’t assume academic language is acquired just because they’re fluent, just because they’re the cheerleading captain on the football team, on the drama [00:47:00] club, playing five different instruments.

We don’t assume the ability to use academic language just because they’re highly engaged multilinguals. We actually have to shift from assuming and assigning to instructing. 

Mandi Morris: Tan, I wonder for you in your teaching career, what brings you, obviously multilingual learners bring you a ton of passion, but can you share with us just what is something that you love teaching that if you wanted to share with another teacher, like if you want to have fun with your students, we sometimes forget the joy in teaching, as you mentioned earlier, Tan, I’m sorry.

Teachers in the U. S. have been under a lot of pressure and stress. What is something where this reinvigorated me, like this book you just recommended, or this is a teaching practice that is just so fun that I want to share with other colleagues, like when I’m sitting around the table with teacher friends, like this is what’s making us laugh and have fun right now.

Tan Huynh: The thing that would, I would have teachers use that is [00:48:00] so fun, cost nothing. Very little prep and can be used from K to like senior year of college. It’s. student collaboration. Here’s the, here’s what, here’s a truism that I learned from Kegan. Students do not come to school for the facilities, for the lunch, for the bus system.

They sure don’t come to learn and they wouldn’t admit that, but they do. They don’t come to, and this is a shock, they don’t come to see me. I was shocked that they don’t come to see. I am beautiful and I have lots of fun with them. Why don’t they come to see me? They come to school only for one, to be with their friends.

So if you can make learning from K to plus at post college from, to a PhD level, collaborative, You will make learning so much more fun. For example, let’s say Justin is learning about Diamante poem. Justin, [00:49:00] can you tell me a band that you love? Like your favorite musician or group? 

Justin Hewett: My favorite is probably Jack Johnson.

Tan Huynh: Jack Johnson. I heard Taylor Swift, so we’ll go with Taylor Swift. Oh, come on 

Justin Hewett: now. 

Tan Huynh: So we’ll go with, we’ll go with Jack Johnson. So what would happen is Justin and I would sit down together and we would listen to a Jack Johnson song. And then I would force him to listen to Lady Gaga as well afterwards. And a little bit of Taylor Swift.

We would co write the Diamante poem. about Jack Johnson and he would tell me what to write and I would write the first word. So, Justin, give me the first word when you think about Jack Johnson. 

Justin Hewett: Surfing. 

Tan Huynh: Surfing. So I would write the word surfing first. After that, give me the second line, two words. What would give you, what would you give word about Jack Johnson?

Justin Hewett: Beach vibes. 

Tan Huynh: Beach, Jack Johnson comma beach vibes. We already have now a Diamante poem, but it’s fun because like now I’m learning about Jack Johnson and [00:50:00] after this I’m about to go on YouTube and learn about a little bit more and here’s some of his Beach Vibe songs in Utah So that so when you want to have fun with students don’t create fun activities for them to do today We’re gonna explode a cat No, today we’re going to shoot a cactus out of something.

No, we’re going to learn about diamante poems, which are so not fun, but we’re going to do it through collaboration. And you’re going to write about Jack Johnson. And then Justin’s going to help me write about Taylor Swift 

Justin Hewett: and a diamante 

Tan Huynh: poem. The first word. You don’t live 

Justin Hewett: at the beach. You got to bring the beach to you.

Tan Huynh: I heard there are mountains and lovely mountains in Utah. 

Justin Hewett: Beautiful mountains. And we’ve got some great lakes with a little bit of beach around them. So that’s where we pull that out of. 

Tan Huynh: Okay. A V a beach trip next time to Utah. 

Justin Hewett: Let’s do it. Let’s do it. Don. Tom, what a pleasure to have you here on, on our ML chat podcast.

You have been just so delightful to talk through and [00:51:00] work through some of this. I know that a lot of folks. Probably already follow your work. And we know that you’ve got your, you’ve got your podcast. You’ve got your website. We also saw that you’re going to be a part of the ML summit here coming up this next month.

Do you want to tell everybody a little bit about that? 

Tan Huynh: Yes. The goal was to say, we created this podcast. This summit, this conference, it’s an online PD so that teachers don’t have to travel anywhere. They can stay in the pajamas. They can have their matcha. They can sit next to the cat as they listen to experts talk.

They don’t have to travel. They don’t have to pay for anything. It’s there. Always for them, and they even get certificates that they need for continuing education certificates. This next one is going to be Dr. Jeff Viers. He’s talking about academic conversations. That is going to be the keynote. Then the next one, we have two more guest featured speakers.

Michelle Gill from Canada is going to be talking about innovative professional learning. And then the last one is Dr. Adrian [00:52:00] Mendoza. And he’s talking about what does math look like for multilinguals. So we just gave teachers a really quick opportunity to learn at their own pace. So if they can’t attend because they have to take their dog to like grooming, they can go and listen to it afterwards, right?

We have it live. So the students, so the teachers can collaborate if they want to, they can go and type in a group chat and we just have it free for them. And that’s the purpose. We are just so indebted. To teachers in America, Katie, Carol, and I are so indebted to the amazing work that you do, that teachers are doing.

We just constantly want to give as much as possible. We make no money out of that. I actually pay for the ML site website, but I’m happy to do that because there is someone in Iowa that has funds. And I’m doing, we’re doing this so that she can get PD, that he can get PD, that they can get PD. On their own time in the way that it supports them and they can find it on their own.

We’re happy to do that. 

Justin Hewett: That is awesome. We’re excited. [00:53:00] We’re excited to check that out The podcast is called teaching ml’s podcast with tan win You can get it anywhere you get your podcast. They just he just recorded his 200th episode and it was with Alice Collins and our friend Beth Skelton. So pretty fun that worlds are colliding here.

Tom, what a pleasure to be able to work through some of this stuff. Maybe what we’d love to do is maybe just ask maybe one or two last questions here in the last, maybe in the last year or so, tell us maybe just quickly about a paradigm shift. That you’ve gone through, whether it’s in, in the work that you’re doing and serving students, or it’s in professional development that you do, just something that maybe, I don’t know if it’s something you change your mind on, but maybe it’s just a paradigm shift.

We’d love to hear from you. 

Tan Huynh: The biggest paradigm shift I’ve had last year is how to make students talk more authentically. I used to say, go and have a conversation about this. Now, after I teach content, I say, go rank this topic from [00:54:00] blank to blank. Now the students have to debate. So I might say, instead of before, I would say go talk about Jack Johnson.

And I would say, go rate this topic. His most artistic songs from least artistic to most artistic students now have to the content they have to have read his lyrics, listen to his performance. Then they would have to debate. I think X song is better than Y song. Justin, what do you think? What song is better than, what is the most artistic song and what is the least artistic song do you think?

Justin Hewett: Oh, I wouldn’t be able to answer. I’m not that artistic of a band. I just like the music. Better Together is probably my favorite. Perfect. 

Tan Huynh: And then we would discuss Better Together. Compared to another song that he puts in. So look at the listening, the speaking that has to go on, the thinking, the negotiation, the evidence finding, the turn taking, the perspective taking that they have to do when they rank ideas instead of [00:55:00] go turn and talk to your partner.

Justin Hewett: I love that. I love that so much. Yeah. With Flashlight, one of the things that we’ve really tried to build into Flashlight 360 is that opportunity for students to think. We provide them an image and they’re usually prompted in a couple of different ways and allows them to do that work, negotiate it, think about it, potentially rank things, but go through and systematize their thinking before they then go into speaking and then writing and they build on each other that way.

Tan Huynh: Let me know this community. Let me know if you ever want me to come back and do, I know you, you had the, my lovely sister, Beth Kelton come to a flashlight. Let me know if you ever need of a need for me to come and share. I’d be honored to be there. 

Justin Hewett: It’d be awesome. I love it. Mandi, you get the last question of the day.

Mandi Morris: Last question, Tan, who has influenced you? And if you were to recommend to ML specialists, if you haven’t read this work, or if you haven’t been influenced by this person yet, 

Tan Huynh: go and do. Oh, okay. The person that has influenced my work [00:56:00] the most is Beth Skelton. She makes my life. 30, 000 metaphors into one.

She’s like, Han, we can’t doing, stop metaphoring me. Like just do one, right? She puts my like flamboyantness into like clarity. I appreciate that. My boyfriend’s still working on that. The book that I recommend besides the writing revolution is the companion book. It’s called the knowledge gap and you don’t even have to get the book.

You can go get the podcast, which is free. It’s called knowledge matters. It’s by Natalie Wexler. She talks about the need for students not to just decode. Decoding is fabulous and phonics is essential. What happens after that? What happens when they can decode the word caterpillar? They need to have comprehension about the butterfly cycle.

And so now we need to add comprehension through that. And so she talks about the need to teach reading through comprehension. Once they know, once they have the basic of decoding and word recognitions skills, [00:57:00] they need to have comprehension skills. And so that is a fabulous book. It, Justin would love it because it specifically talks about why do we need to teach content?

Why do we need MLs to stay in the science classes to stay in the social studies classes, because that gives them the content to speak, to read, to write, and listen. 

Justin Hewett: I would love that. Okay. I’m going to go jump into it. Tan, thank you so much for being a guest here with us on the MLChat 



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