9. Affirming Emergent Bilinguals in the K12 Classroom

December 13, 2020 Amy Baron Season 1 Episode 9
9. Affirming Emergent Bilinguals in the K12 Classroom
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9. Affirming Emergent Bilinguals in the K12 Classroom
Dec 13, 2020 Season 1 Episode 9
Amy Baron

GUEST: KRISTIE SHELLEY, CO-CREATOR, ROSETTA STONE ENGLISH. Over 10% of America's school children speak a language other than English at home. In states like California and Texas, that number is closer to 20%. Yet instead of affirming these students for the diverse abilities and knowledge they bring to the classroom, schools often marginalize them. Join Amy and her guest Kristie Shelley, Co-Creator of Rosetta Stone English, as they talk about celebrating emergent bilinguals and approaches that work toward their academic success and integration.

Show Notes Transcript

GUEST: KRISTIE SHELLEY, CO-CREATOR, ROSETTA STONE ENGLISH. Over 10% of America's school children speak a language other than English at home. In states like California and Texas, that number is closer to 20%. Yet instead of affirming these students for the diverse abilities and knowledge they bring to the classroom, schools often marginalize them. Join Amy and her guest Kristie Shelley, Co-Creator of Rosetta Stone English, as they talk about celebrating emergent bilinguals and approaches that work toward their academic success and integration.

Amy Baron  0:06  

Hey everybody, I'm Amy Baron, and this is upskill solutions in the learning universe, where I talk with professionals in education and workforce development, about practices and perspectives that catalyze positive change. We're here today with Kristie Shelley, who is the senior director of emergent bilingual curriculum at Lexia Learning, and co author of Rosetta Stone English. She's been a classroom teacher, an educational consultant, and an entrepreneur, co founding an education company that was acquired by Rosetta Stone in 2017. Her current focus is on creating educational programs that make emergent bilinguals feel celebrated and confident in their learning journey. So welcome, Kristie. Thanks for having me. Great to have you here. So I thought we could start off our conversation with some definitions, because there probably are people listening who really are not as familiar with this segment of learners called emergent bilinguals. So could you could start us off by just giving us a description of who these learners are?


Kristie Shelley  1:25  

Of course, yes, so like Prince, we can say formerly known as the formerly known as English language learners. So this is how we define our learners. We call them emergent bilinguals. And I think that right off the bat, that gives you a foundation for positive outlook and how we want to come come to our students, what kind of programs are going to build for them, if we look at them, instead of a deficit, right? Instead of coming in and not knowing English, we want to celebrate them. And we know that they're coming in. And they already have a language. And so we want to build on that. So they may be emergent bilinguals, they might even be emergent multilinguals. And so we're here to support them and help them grow in any way that we can.


Amy Baron  2:15  

And of course, those of us adults who encounter someone who speaks more than one language, we're usually like, Wow, that's amazing. That's so cool.


Kristie Shelley  2:24  

In our education system, you know, these learners end up in intervention, there's sometimes in special ed, because they haven't quite grasped a language, it's hard to learn a language, right? We need to take these learners and elevate them and celebrate them and be like and say right on, you're going to we're going to help you. In our case in United States, we're going to help you learn English.


Amy Baron  2:47  

So I actually gathered some statistics before this conversation from the US Department of Education and Pew Research. And just to give the audience a little more context about these learners, about 10% of all US schoolchildren come from homes where English is not the first language. And that number is closer to 20%. in states like California and Texas, in South Carolina, Kentucky and Mississippi, they've seen over 400% increase in the past 20 years. In these learners, and the majority, around 75% that are enrolled in US schools are actually born in the US and are US citizens. So there, you know, there may be misconceptions out there that many of these children are not us born but in fact, the majority are. And as most people probably are aware, the majority have a primary language of Spanish that is the most that is the biggest language group of these learners. But the bottom line of these statistics is that this is a segment of learners that's growing and that's very important to be considered as we consider education, policy funding, etc. And also to think of this group as a diverse group as with any group, right, we've got strengths and challenges as you would have with any group and one of the things that that I coming from a foreign language learning background have always kept in mind is that there are actually cognitive advantages of being bilingual elements right, such as executive functioning, I mean, studies have been done about this chime in here Kristie if your


Kristie Shelley  4:39  

should be celebrated.


Amy Baron  4:41  

Exactly. So you know, some some of these learners have strong literacy skills in their home language, others have little or no formal schooling. Some have strong academic preparation and skills and content knowledge and others have have limited practice developing language skills and academic vocabulary. So it is a diverse group. And that obviously makes it more challenging. But let's talk about some of the ways that the US education system has approached these learners traditionally or in over the years,


Kristie Shelley  5:21  

I was an educational consultant for over a decade, and I was able to literally travel the entire country coast to coast to see the way that schools are, you know, helping serve these learners. And as you just mentioned, it is a diverse group. So there are many different programs that have been in place, there's from like shelter to structured environments to help in different ways, they have pluses and minuses to them. There's usually a staff member, it might be a licensed teacher, and might be an assistant would come in and help in the classroom, while the learner might be learning in their literacy, which is typical. And we can talk about that, the good and bad to that. And then there's also a pullout system where a specialist might come in and take a group of students or maybe one on one, and work with them, maybe in a small classroom to the side. So and they're all fine. They all work in different ways. But it's my question is what is happening in each one of those environments. So if you have a pullout, great, wonderful, the students are getting pulled out, but what are you doing with them? So that varies across the board? You know, the the push in the pull out the structure of the shelter, those are common, they're across everywhere. But it's actually what they're doing that varies. And that I think, where the problem is lying, because there's no there's no like universal, here's what here's what you should do. You have different standards from different states, you have consortiums coming in and telling them where they show you what they should be doing at different grade levels and different proficiency levels. There's not really a lot of consistency right now. But we do know that within the structures, there are strengths and weaknesses, for sure. And we're seeing that right, that system is built to get these results. And one of the results is that it's not the newcomers that are that are necessarily the struggle. It's the students that have been in this system for many years. And we call those long term English learners the althaus. And they're the ones that, you know, kind of that's my heart. That's what we're trying to serve, because we're trying to get them over that hump, to become language proficient English language proficient. So it's the structures there, it's what's being done to get them there, we need to start questioning for sure.


Amy Baron  7:55  

Right? So these these learners, that that you're referring to our learners that continue to be placed in classrooms where they are not mainstreamed? 100%, because they still don't have the language ability. And they are, you know, you were mentioning the English classroom is the classroom from which they are usually pulled out or separated. Is that correct? Unfortunately, yes.


Kristie Shelley  8:29  

Or sometimes they will get a double dose of literacy. But we often tie English language development, as we call it to literacy. And there's wonderful things about that. I mean, I, I know that often students, especially the younger ones, are getting still getting phonemic awareness and phonics, type of instruction, which is so important when you're learning a language, especially if you come from a language that maybe doesn't have similar sounds in English that we do. So those types of instructional elements are very important, but it always seems to be tied into into literacy. So the question I like to ask people, if you are going to learn French, would you take a French literacy class? Or would you take a French language class? And the answer is probably a French language class if I was going to go learn French. So if we take a step back, and we look at how you actually acquire a language, right, you need some dedicated time and practice to that. So instead of just teaching English and assuming that they're going to learn through through this instruction, let's actually teach them English. Let's teach them grammar structure, so that they can then translate that into their writings and to apply it to their reading because at the end of the day, we we know that we need to really practice and elevate their academic English and that's that's how You think you can do that?


Amy Baron  10:02  

So what you're describing is what I have heard of as kind of content based instruction, right? Where you're learning a, you're learning a language through the content that you're studying. So whatever content area you're studying, like you're studying literature or reading, and you're learning English at the same time. Whereas if you think about foreign language learning in our school system, you know, Spanish is a class in and of itself, French is a class. Now, right? It's not like you're, you're learning Spanish and biology at the same time.


Kristie Shelley  10:39  

Exactly. I could barely learn biology at all.


Amy Baron  10:45  

So I think the idea is the same that, you know, these young learners, you know, do need this direct instruction of the language, they can't just be kind of, yeah.


Kristie Shelley  10:58  

expected to, you know, and if you're teaching comprehension, wonderful, let's teach comprehension. But if they don't have access to the language, how can they even comprehend that? So I, you know, some states are doing it, right. Some states do have that designated el time, which is amazing, they call it designated ELD. But again, we need to ask ourselves, what are we doing during that time, another way that I saw in my consulting days was, students never spoke. So um, you know, maybe they would speak on the playground. And so they were great in those basic communication skills. But when it came to the academic like, inside those four walls, who was doing the speaking, and I'm pointing at me, because I was that teacher, right? I had 99% of my students were emergent bilinguals. And I was guilty of it as well, like I was speaking. And then once you like, you know, step out of the frame and look at the picture from a different view, and you see in classrooms, oh, my goodness, they're never getting an opportunity to actually talk. And so that's another area that I think could be improved, you know, let's teach English. Let's also get our students to speak English, you have to, in order to learn a language, you have to speak the language.


Amy Baron  12:13  

Absolutely, absolutely. So what are some features of this approach?


Kristie Shelley  12:21  

So let me tell you, that we the product that we have is called Rosetta Stone, English. And I mentioned that earlier, it's an it's a digital platform. So it's, it's a blended learning model, but it's mostly a digital platform. And we really had to dig deep when we developed this, because, you know, we talk culture, responsive teaching culture, responsive pedagogy, we really need to take the teaching and pedagogy off and just look at being culture responsible, right, as a, in a global sense. So we built these awesome characters to help speak to the learners. So we thought if we built these these characters, almost to be like friends, that our learners would want to learn English so that they could learn more about these characters. So we spent a long time developing these characters, characters, their biographies, they're like 10 pages plus long, we had them also evaluated by an outside company to make sure they, they were, you know, very diverse, and culturally responsive in all the ways that we talked about. So these characters come from all different countries, all different backgrounds, all different cultures, because we also wanted our students to not only see the mirror of their life, on the screen, but also window into other cultures. And you'll see, most of our characters speak Spanish. And then you know, we kind of like went down, but we went through all the representation we could within the education system. So we have learners from France, from Russia, from Puerto Rico and you from all over. And we also made sure that they all have accents, so that the learners themselves can see and hear someone else speak teaching them English and speaking and it just, you know, in that way important,


Unknown Speaker  14:14  

right? It's


Kristie Shelley  14:15  

so important because it shows them that no matter how you speak English, it's perfect. It's okay. I mean, I'm from California, my husband's from Boston, we speak different English. We spoke about that. And even Maya's from California and her husband is from England, he speaks different English. So even if English is your first language, we all have accents. And so we really want to emphasize that in our program, and because to us that's being culturally responsive, right. Um, the other part of this was that we wanted to make sure that we had a growth mindset built into the program. We wanted the learners to feel like ready and happy and excited. To learn English and so all throughout these characters are not only their mentors helping them learn English, but they're also cheering them on Good job, you did it, you can do it as they're going through. So we set up an environment where students are in that, that they're not being judged, right, they don't have that pressure of having to really practice with another human, they have a friend to talk to you on the screen, where they can have purposeful repetition, practicing academic English, that we hope they can then transfer to other areas and other subjects and be confident there too.


Amy Baron  15:36  

Well, that sounds fantastic. I'm really excited to see this program. And I want to meet all the characters and get to know them and


Kristie Shelley  15:48  

work with you like they're your friend. We also have, you know, outside of cultures and language, we also made them diverse with abilities. We have several classes, one with the prosthetic limbs, one with diabetes, you'll see a great representation of diversity across all aspects. So we tried to be culturally responsive,


Amy Baron  16:08  

globally. Great, so great. Well, thank you so much Kristie, for coming on and talking about the program. It sounds great and for telling us a little bit more about this very important population of learners, in our in our schools in all of our schools. And hopefully we can all get better and shift our mindset and look at these learners. These emergent bilinguals as an asset to our classrooms, which we I know certainly feel they are and we hope others do too. So thanks again, Kristie.


Amy Baron  16:49  

And thank you all for listening to upskill this episode has been brought to you by convergent learning, specializing in education technology, product consulting and market strategy. You can follow me on LinkedIn or on Twitter at Amy Baron one. That's @amybaron1. And we'll see you next time on upskilled.


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