Voices of NABE: Connections Across Languages

This week on the ML Chat Podcast we are excited for another episode from our Voices of NABE Series where you get to hear directly from the ML Community that joined us at the 2023 NABE Conference.

On this episode we hear how educators are helping their students make connections across languages and build the language they already have.

Listen in your favorite podcast provider

[00:00:00] Justin: Hi everybody. Welcome back to the ML Chat podcast. My name is Justin Hewitt. I’m joined by Tim Blackburn and we are going back to nabe. We are gonna make connections across language. We’ve got some wonderful conversations that we had with educators, really from all over the world, I’ll say this time but all over the nation as well. You are gonna love this episode about making connection across languages. Let’s go.

[00:00:26] Interview: I’m from Bolivia, so I’m teaching them Spanish right now. I was teaching English before abroad, so it’s like switching over, trying to get the kids to be proud of their cultures, proud of their heritage, using that side as well to get them to apply the language on their daily life. Not just whatever they speak at home or whatever they speak at school.

[00:00:46] Interview: So just trying to have them be proud of that so that they will use it instead of suppressing the language that maybe comes from home and they’re embarrassed or they feel like they’re gonna make a mistake and people are gonna make fun of them. So just trying to get them to feel a little bit more confident in the language that they’re speaking.

[00:01:02] Tim: What did you hear Justin?

[00:01:04] Justin: Oh, I loved hearing from Vera here. Thanks Vera. For sharing. The one thing that I really loved that she focused on was she wanted her students to be proud of their language, proud and confident, but I just, I love hearing that proud. the other day we were meeting with an EL director who talked about, a period of time when a district had asked parents not to speak to their students in their heritage language and to only speak to ’em in English.

[00:01:28] Justin: I mean, This is 20, 30 years ago or something like that now. and just, this EL director talked about the damage that this had really done in families and the challenge there. And I just love the idea of, Helping students be proud of their language and proud of their culture and their heritage.

[00:01:44] Justin: That was the thing that stuck out to me the most. What about you, Tim?

[00:01:47] Tim: Yeah, I know friends that were actually impacted by programming like that, Justin programming that we would call subtractive, right? that removes, not just the language, but our students access to their culture, through their language and

[00:02:00] Tim: The opposite of the pride that Vera is trying to instill. in her students. And for me thinking about the importance of, language as an access point for culture, right? So that resonated with me as a sort of why are we doing this?

[00:02:13] Tim: The reason why we’re doing to doing this is to foster yes, of course pride in our students’ cultural heritage. Another point that came up for me is just the difference of, dual language in contrast to say Submersive English programming is that, dual language is meant to be an additive bilingual program.

[00:02:34] Tim: so in the research they refer to it as additive, bilingual programming.

[00:02:38] Justin: Yeah.

[00:02:39] Tim: And again, it really for me speaks to all right. Like the why we’re doing this is to yes. To leverage the linguistic and cultural and social assets our students bring from home. Yes. Of course for the reason of building our students linguistic competency, yes.

[00:02:55] Tim: But also by honoring their social and cultural connections from home.

[00:03:01] Justin: I love that idea of it being additive, right? Of bring your language and we’re gonna add to it, rather than, Hey, bring your language and actually don’t bring your language. Leave it at home and don’t even leave it home. And are you kidding me? Come on. it just takes us back to, in our last episode we talked, a little bit during our wrap up about the importance of the why, right?

[00:03:22] Justin: And getting into that. And, here we think about the why, what is it that we’re really trying to do here? And, obviously, trying to. Be more subtractive, in that way where we’re removing a heritage language is obviously gonna do a lot of damage and have long-term consequences.

[00:03:37] Justin: but in this case where we’re focused on helping students use their language and be proud of their language and proud of their culture and we can add more to it. And I just love that idea of it being additive.

[00:03:48] .

[00:03:48] Justin: All right. Next we’re gonna hear from Angela Sanchez, who’s an elementary school teacher in Gatson school district.

[00:03:56] Interview: Being an dual language teacher as the English component, I’m constantly using cognates in my classroom, so constantly trying to find words that sound and look similar in English and in Spanish, so that way they can make that connection.

[00:04:11] Interview: I’ll ask students for if they know what the word is in Spanish. We have a good handful of truly bilingual students in our classroom who are those models for the rest of the students, and so I think cognates is a really powerful but also easy way to make those connections across English and Spanish for the students.

[00:04:32] Justin: Alright. Thank you Angela. Tim, unpack that even just a little bit more about the importance of using cognates to make those connections across languages.

[00:04:42] Tim: Yeah. Thanks. Justin, you know what I appreciate that Angela calls out is just a very tangible approach for helping students take full advantage of their linguistic repertoire.

[00:04:54] Tim: That is, how can I use all I know about language to make connections across my languages? And, as a teacher, I actually had this experience that you can’t assume just because say your students speak Spanish, that they’re going to necessarily have the tools to make those connections across languages.

[00:05:13] Tim: For instance, I often found that even for my students to feel like they have the permission to do it. And I got curious about that and I really learned it wasn’t so much a question of permission, but rather a question of practice. When we look at the guts of our language proficiency standards, we’ll find that, 21st century language proficiency standards have a talk about vocabulary in a really different way.

[00:05:38] Tim: Justin, when you and I were growing up in school, vocabulary, you can close your eyes and picture what vocabulary looked like, but it was like definitions and matching across columns, right? or fill in the blank. And these shifts that I’m attempting to speak to really break down vocabulary in a different way.

[00:05:59] Tim: And it’s really more of a skills approach that is that students have the micro vocabulary skills to define terms and context. That is, they don’t necessarily have to pull the dictionary off of the shelf but rather to use what they already know about language to make meaning of the term and context cognates are one of those skills.

[00:06:23] Tim: Justin. That is when I see a word that reminds me of a term in English, that I can make the connection to my home language to support my understanding of the term and how it’s used in that context.

[00:06:37] Justin: It’s funny, in my head I’m thinking, oh, this sounds like a shortcut or like a hack, but really it’s just a best practice.

[00:06:43] Tim: Yeah. It is, it’s just a best background, like how do I use what I know already to help me make meaning of this term that I recognize but not, may not necessarily know in this context.

[00:06:55] Justin: It’s interesting, it reminds me a little bit of using someone’s schema to help them use more language or using something that’s more

[00:07:01] Tim: It’s exactly what it’s,

[00:07:04] Tim: There you go. Have I ever told you about Mr. Tim’s three vocabulary skills?

[00:07:09] Justin: No, let’s hear

[00:07:10] Tim: I haven’t told you about them. So there’s a key charts on each of my, students’ desks, and desks. What I mean is their shared workspace and tables

[00:07:19] Justin: Yeah.

[00:07:20] Tim: and Mr.

[00:07:21] Tim: Tim’s three vocabulary skills would beyond them. So we would do context, right? Using the context around the, the word to look for cues word parts that is the morphology, having roots. Prefixes and suffixes. And oftentimes, and this was especially true for my French speaking and Spanish speaking students cognates,

[00:07:44] Justin: Mm.

[00:07:45] Tim: what do I already know in my L one that can help me make meaning of how this term is being used in English?

[00:07:52] Tim: But those three vocabulary skills they were like the focus of, vocabulary lessons or a focus of our reading lesson because we were building those skills always in context. And further there’s designed to build proficiency and capacity of our students instead of, and is superficially, memorizing, vocabulary terms. Okay.

[00:08:16] Justin: love that. So that was Mr. Tim’s three magic ways

[00:08:20] Tim: magic. Yeah. That I cribbed from the standards, that effectively came from that shift. So instead of, memorizing definitions or actually building our readiness to interpret the meaning of new words and context.

[00:08:34] Justin: I just love that you had that on every table. we’ve talked a lot through our different episodes, the importance and the power of routines, right? This to me feels like another routine of sorts that we’re automatically building in.

[00:08:46] Justin: So it’s a part of that. Man, Angela got us going, like we’re having some fun here talking

[00:08:51] Tim: she did. Yeah. Yeah. Again, A tangible way to support students in making connections across their languages. So when you hear about the value of the linguistic and cultural funds of knowledge, cognates are a clear, accessible way to do that.

[00:09:10] Justin: Oh, fantastic. Thank you Angela. Really appreciate that.

[00:09:14] Justin: Next We’re gonna hear from Claudia Nors. She’s a dual language specialist from Duval County Public Schools in Florida.

[00:09:23] Interview: There are several strategies that can be used to promote cross-linguistic connections with students. And so it’s just finding those activities that really allow students to compare both languages, like how they’re the same, like looking at words, are they spelled the same, do they mean the same thing?

[00:09:38] Interview: Looking at cognates, just activities that allow students to explore the language they’re learning or looking at bilingual books and seeing how, what words the author use in English or what they use in Spanish to see how would they use them. Does it make sense and what they’re reading.

[00:09:54] Justin: Wow. there is some good stuff here. Thank you, Claudia. I love the language that she uses about talking about exploring the language they’re learning, what jumped out to you from what Claudia just shared?

[00:10:06] Tim: I would actually just thrilled to hear what Alia shared. I actually had the image of little student investigators, like students being curious about how language is used. And I guess you know, Claudia, thank you for emphasizing the importance of meta linguistic awareness. And that meta linguistic awareness is built over many opportunities to practice analysis in supported spaces. Looking at the way students say the way that authors use language for particular purposes, why do they, use, the words that they use how does that make you feel? What do you think was the author’s purpose? Those language choices are indicative of, say an author’s purpose and to analyze those with a bilingual lens sort of head explode emoji.

[00:10:57] Tim: For me, I just that was a, Bucket filling interview Justin to hear how Claudia was, again, exercising that meta, linguistic awareness.

[00:11:07] Justin: Oh, I love that.

[00:11:07] Justin: Tim, what is meta Linguistic awareness?

[00:11:12] Tim: Meta linguistic awareness is really a question of how are students and how we use language for particular, purposes. And meta linguistic awareness really breaks down to how we know how language works.

[00:11:26] Tim: And, when you think about Your children, for instance, Justin, and the way that they use language for particular purposes, and oftentimes it could be for, say, negotiating bedtimes or which is probably constant, right? Or if you’re, my daughters it’s looking for some sort of a treat. Uh, But ultimately it’s using language for a particular purpose. Our awareness for how language works. And, you know, what Claudia was pointing out was the value of having basically like a magnifying glass. Over, say a particular word or a phrase and interpreting that not only for the purpose behind the language, but also how it works, so you can think about it like structurally in terms of syntax, but you can also think about it pragmatically for actually the purpose behind it.

[00:12:26] Justin: And I’m thinking about, the process of actually exploring, These bilingual books and understanding why did the author put this in? or why did they use this word instead of that word? And just the expansive conversation I feel like, would happen in the classroom because of that.

[00:12:42] Justin: Yes, it’d be great to understand, that word a little bit better and why the author would use that potentially for context. But even more than that, it just seems like it would really create a rich conversation about language and about words and the intentionality behind this word and this language, and this word and that language seems like a really rich conversation, starter,

[00:13:02] Tim: It is. And this is not just like a one and done lesson. What Faia shared is that this is, a skill to be exercised in myriad context. It’s a lens that, that you can use, throughout our lessons. To think critically about the role of language really irrespective of the context.

[00:13:23] Justin: And can you imagine being a teacher and this was part of the routine, right? just like we had,

[00:13:28] Justin: miss Mr. Tim’s magic vocabulary, if you had this as a routine that if as you were reading through something, with the class, with the group that, every day you find a word that you can then unpack together and dissect or explore into.

[00:13:42] Justin: I love that. I love this. This is

[00:13:44] Tim: Yeah. Yeah. Way to go. Yeah. Thank you. there’s a real difference or way we view things now versus like how I was trained as a teacher. Like I was trained as a, as an E s L teacher in diagramming sentences. And thinking about language and like really black and white terms.

[00:14:02] Tim: And what Claudia discusses here is actually very different. It’s, you know, Coaching students like little by little and thinking critically about how language is used. It’s not just parts speech, it’s how those, it’s how that language is used for a particular hand. and it’s, again, I thought this was a pretty moving point.

[00:14:22] Justin: It reminds me a lot of the focus now on more functional linguistics, right? Where, you know when I think about even when I was learning Tagalog, when I went and lived in the Philippines for a couple of years, there was so much, it was like, okay, you put this as this part of the sentence and then this is this part of the sentence, and you like craft these sentences together and it’s this logical thing where really, you know, what we’re talking about here is taking the language that, students have and how do we, like, how do we build the bridges?

[00:14:49] Justin: How do we make these connections, from the language they do have to the language that they’re adding, to their language repertoire, you know?

[00:14:56] Tim: and So we’re actually going to see a specific reference to bridging later. This did come up for me when I heard from Claudia as the value of dedicated time for meta linguistic awareness.

[00:15:08] Tim: All right. Justin, pack your bag. Cuz we’re gonna go to Gadsden school district in the great state of New Mexico. We’re gonna hear from Deanna Ana. And so let’s let’s hear it.

[00:15:19] Interview: Main strategy that I use is a topic when we go over, specifically in science, there’s a lot of words are very similar in Spanish English. When we go over reading and there’s a word that it’s very similar to the other language I automatically say, okay, class.

[00:15:38] Interview: So this is a cognitive, remember? And then they remember, oh yeah, cogniti. And that concept sticks better. With them. And also I create the connections besides the nce. Yeah. Using a word that has multiple meanings, English and in Spanish, but sometimes example. Okay. He, and they’re just making funny faces. They trying to talk like a fish and I like no. Yeah. And they just start laughing. Okay. Na, it could be nada. You’re swimming in English. Oh, nada. Like nothing. Oh, na. Na, nothing. That’s awesome. Little strategies like that so they can create connections among their language and.

[00:16:23] Tim: Okay, Justin, let’s review. What are Mr. Tim’s three vocabulary skills? Do you remember?

[00:16:33] Justin: I didn’t write it

[00:16:34] Tim: The first part is context, right? Word parts and cognates. And what Deanna shared with us is yes, the value of cognates. We know that. But then what I appreciate that she did is that she actually gave us a specific example, right?

[00:16:52] Tim: Words having multiple meanings. So if we pause here for a moment. And think about the connections to say, Mr. Tim’s three vocabulary skills, but there’s a direct connection between the context, right?

[00:17:06] Justin: Yep.

[00:17:07] Tim: And then the word having, multiple meetings, like within two different contexts.

[00:17:14] Tim: What is, it’s not very easy to do in English. A direct translation of Deana’s joke, swimming, right there were swim, and then not that nothing, right? Are written the exact same way. So when you think about it in terms of like morphology, it’s the same word, but has a different meaning because of the context.

[00:17:38] Justin: Yes.

[00:17:38] Tim: Yes.

[00:17:39] Justin: yes.

[00:17:40] Justin: I’m following now. Yes.

[00:17:42] Tim: Uhhuh. Yeah. Yeah. And a again, when we think about the value of routines

[00:17:48] Tim: As a frame for building these skills building the muscles for these skills and in a variety of ways, right? And Deanna, thank you. Just, sincerely for like landing that example I heard yes, the value of routine the importance of exercising meta linguistic awareness and again, in a low stakes way.

[00:18:11] Tim: So using. Say, jokes as a way to to teach multiple meaning words and not necessarily the definition of the word, but rather this same word could have different meanings depending on the context.

[00:18:26] Justin: Amazing work, Deanna.

[00:18:28] Tim: Mm-hmm.

[00:18:28] Tim: It’s fun too.

[00:18:29] Justin: And I guarantee as students are gonna learn a lot more when they’re having fun.

[00:18:33] Tim: Agreed.

[00:18:34] Justin: All right. Next we gonna go here from Martha Martinez. She is the principal of Clandandon Elementary in the El Paso Independent School District.

[00:18:44] Interview: We come with a rich background. It’s very important that we acknowledge where everybody comes from, whether they speak Spanish, Portuguese Chinese, Japanese, it doesn’t matter. We need to build a bridge between the two cultures and learn from each other.

[00:18:58] Interview: One of the things that I really enjoy is that we don’t wanna forget about the first language. We just wanna enrich the first language and create a real multicultural, bilingual student

[00:19:10] Justin: Yes, that is right, Marta. I love that. We want to build those bridges between the rich cultures that students bring, no matter what language it is they’re speaking. I love how she’s talking about that Tim she actually reminds me of of a school in Denver public schools called Place Bridge Academy.

[00:19:30] Justin: That they started this school a number of years ago, but it, the whole in intention was to, really give a place where They were having a huge influx of refugee families and English learners come, and, they had 64 home countries represented.

[00:19:45] Justin: And and anyways, place Bridge was a really neat place. I had a chance to go there one time and I just loved it. But I, that was, their whole idea was building connections, building bridges between, you know, students languages and cultures and to English and to what they’re doing now.

[00:20:02] Justin: And anyways. I love that. I’d love to hear what resonated with you from what Marta just shared.

[00:20:07] Tim: Yeah. Firstly, it is just, thank you from for sharing your experience. And I had a mentor tell me once that, heterogeneity is a gift and

[00:20:16] Tim: that, The diversity of our classrooms and the multitude of perspectives and backgrounds really is a, they’ve been invaluable resource. How do we go about, leveraging those strengths and building on those assets our students bring with them to class? And, through these interviews, Justin, we’ve heard just a multitude of different, I, ideas on how to uh, build our students capacity and their home language simultaneously, as we build their capacity and in, in English.

[00:20:49] Tim: And as Martha was sharing, a theme came up for me as just the importance of being intentional in what we do and actually like creating the space for students to connect to their prior knowledge and to bridge that prior knowledge into our lessons that really irrespective.

[00:21:07] Tim: Of the lesson is that there’s real value in looking for, examples or lived experiences that our students might have that are related to a particular concept that we’re developing in our lesson, and being mindful of pulling that lived experience and making connections into to the new topic. And there’s lots we can actually discuss in terms of the pedagogy of how to do that.

[00:21:33] Tim: But conceptually, that was my take from Martha’s again, being intentional and celebrating the diversity in our class by creating tasks and creating moments in our lesson for students to reflect on their lived experience and pull it into the lesson.

[00:21:48] Justin: It all comes down to intentionality. Huh? Understanding what you’re

[00:21:52] Justin: trying to accomplish, and really working to that end, understanding the best practices to do that. And I love this. Thank you so much,

[00:22:00] Justin: what? Wonderful. Wonderful. connections here.

[00:22:03] Justin: We had a lot of fun going through all of these interviews today and kind of unpacking the idea here of making connections across language. Tim, give us that quick summary that you are so good at doing of compacting all of this into a couple pieces that everybody can take home, take to their classroom when we get back into school.

[00:22:23] Justin: Unpack this for us, man.

[00:22:25] Tim: Sure. First I just wanted to share just an appreciation of our colleagues for sharing their practice. And it’s just wonderful to hear from our colleagues and their experience and making space for their students and making connections across their languages.

[00:22:40] Tim: And, Justin, something that’s really clear to me is that this isn’t just a question of making cross language connections, but I also heard about the value of cross-cultural connections, and connections across languages to support our students’ understanding of class content as well.

[00:22:57] Tim: And there were just a number of themes that came up in, in our discussion, firstly The value of, meta linguistic awareness, that through class routines we can build our students’ understanding of how language is used in a variety of contexts and for a variety of purposes.

[00:23:18] Tim: And again, this is not a one and done lesson, but rather, part of a routine that helps our students make those connections across their languages. Another thing that I heard, Justin, is just the intentionality and lesson design and being very deliberate about how we actually make, space for that.

[00:23:36] Tim: And, whether you call that time in your lesson bridging right, or the bridge from one language to another. you know, Fundamentally this is about, The intentionality to bring and our lesson designed to provide the support for our students and connecting concepts and language, really across all of their language.

[00:23:56] Tim: And finally, and I think this is probably more conceptually, but again, it’s about, honoring where our students come from and the assets that our students, bring to class. And when we read about, the value of the linguistic, cultural and social funds of knowledge, I just so appreciate the perspective our colleagues shared because they illustrated how to go about doing that, that we honor where our students come from, the language they bring as assets when we encourage them to make connections, to the language they bring from home to the experiences that they’ve had outside of school, and that we are intentional on how we make those connections to, building new understandings.

[00:24:37] Justin: That was the thing that really jumped out to me the most when I think back on, on kind of these interviews was I think there was a common thread there, but it really just, it started with Vera from Bolivia and she talked about, wanting to help students be proud of their language and of their heritage and where they come from and their culture.

[00:24:54] Justin: And really that’s what it’s all about is, being proud of that, Recognizing the language that you do have and trying to build from that. And I think that if we can focus on the language we do have or on the things we do have, it situates us to be so much better equipped to go grow, right?

[00:25:11] Justin: To add to that, to add additional language and make additional connections. And so I just love that connection and I love doing this with you, Tim. I think that you bring such a rich, background in this work and I love you hearing how you can connect the pieces from every single one of these, wonderful educators and colleagues that have shared their ideas and really bring it home for us.

[00:25:35] Tim: Thank you, Justin. And talk about like the value of a conference, having a space to bring all of our colleagues together to, in the case of NABE for celebrating, multilingualism. And yeah, again, I really appreciate the perspective that our colleagues shared about their experiences in their schools.

[00:25:54] Justin: Hey, thank you Tim. And thank you to everybody that participated in our interviews from nabe. What a wonderful conversation today about making connections across languages.

[00:26:04] Justin: Thanks everybody for being here and for tuning into this episode of the ML Chat podcast.


Download the State Language Assessment Checklist

Fill out this short form and we’ll send you the State Language Assessment Checklist for quick reference.