Multilingual pedagogies for diverse inclusive schools

Written by: Silvana Richardson & Kamil Trzebiatowski | Published:
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We should not expect children who use English as an additional language to leave their language and culture at the school door. Kamil Trzebiatowski and Silvana Richardson advise teachers on using multilingual pedagogies


According to official data (DfE, 2021), 19.3% of all learners in England use English as an additional language (EAL).

In some cases, these learners may be exposed to more than one first, home or community language – for example, if one of the child’s parents speaks Dari and the other Pashto – which means that these learners may be plurilingual and may have a rich linguistic repertoire at their disposal by the time they start school.


To use or not to use the languages that pupils know…

Many practitioners wonder whether they should encourage their plurilingual pupils to draw on the languages they know as they learn in and out of school.

As highlighted by Crisfield (2022), some teachers believe that the use of languages other than English in the classroom can be problematic. They feel a loss of control and worry about how to manage the class if they do not know what pupils are saying.

Also, because the language of instruction is English, they fear that if they encourage plurilingual pupils to use the languages they know in class, it can lead to confusion and can slow down or impede their progress.

However, the practice of excluding pupils’ languages from classrooms has been contested by many years of research into bilingualism and multilingualism in school contexts, and the evidence points to the advantages of maintaining and further developing learners’ home languages.

Some benefits include greater cognitive flexibility, stronger academic performance, and the fact that the languages learners know are one of the most valuable resources for learning EAL and for learning in general.

Research suggests that it is not necessarily effective to teach children deep concepts in a language they do not know (Thomas & Collier, 2002; Bialystok et al, 2012; Baker & Wright, 2017; Garcia & Wei, 2014).

Furthermore, for a school that is serious about implementing an inclusive approach and teaching the whole child, it would be incongruent to have a policy which dictates exclusionary practices, such as – in Jim Cummins’ words – expecting pupils to “leave their language and culture at the schoolhouse door” (Crisfield, 2022).

Given that actively drawing on the languages that pupils know can be highly advantageous, teachers and teaching assistants can benefit from implementing multilingual pedagogies that use these languages as a learning tool.


Multilingual pedagogies

Pedagogies which include intentional use of different languages, combining two or more in a systematic, purposeful, and meaningful way as part of the same activity or lesson have been given different names, such as “translanguaging”, “bridging”, and “pedagogical code-switching” (Cenoz & Gorter, 2011; Lewis et al, 2012; Crisfield, 2022).

When enacting such pedagogies, it makes sense to consider the wider contexts in which pupils develop new knowledge and skills, as learning takes place not only in schools, but also in their families, communities, circles of friends and through interactions in digital platforms.

The following sections focus on how to implement and support multilingual pedagogies in each of these contexts.


In school

Multilingual pedagogies work best when firmly rooted within a whole-school approach to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). This is because different languages can unlock insights into diverse cultures, perspectives, and literacy practices for everyone in school.

The different languages used by learners, parents and staff in the school community can be made visible throughout the school, for instance in the form of welcome posters and other signs.

Teachers can plan how to purposefully integrate the languages pupils know and English using Crisfield’s Translanguaging Cycle. This cycle allows teachers to specify and vary languages during the input, processing and output stages of lessons or activities.

Figure 1: Crisfield's Translanguaging Cycle (2022)

Input: Includes activities which promote exposure to curriculum content leading to understanding of a topic or knowledge-building, such as a teacher’s presentation or explanation, watching a video, listening to a file, reading a text, or researching online.

Processing: Involves activities that allow pupils to grapple with the input in order to develop their knowledge and understanding. For instance, through taking notes, talking to peers in pairs or groups, or using of graphic organisers.

Output: Involves pupils producing work which shows what they have learnt, such as verbal responses, presentations, written tasks, physical responses, and artifacts.

Translanguaging can take place at each stage of the cycle. For example, Crisfield (2022) suggests:

  • Asking pupils to listen to a podcast or watch a video that introduces a key topic in English (input) and take notes bilingually. Alternatively, pupils can listen to a text or view a video in their home language – such as videos from the Khan Academy website or on YouTube – and make notes to share with their peers in English. Then working in small groups, pupils can use their notes to co-create mind-maps in English (processing). Finally, pupils can use their mind-maps to write a collaborative summary of the podcast or video in English, and while doing so, they may work with same-language buddies using the language(s) they have in common (output).
  • Asking some pupils to research, for example, a specific historical event in English and asking others to do this in their home languages (input), and then getting together to compare and contrast the different accounts of the same event in order to complete a Venn diagram in English (processing). Finally, learners can write a compare/contrast text in English highlighting the similarities and differences of the accounts they read and discussed (output), thus showing awareness of bias and perspective.

The cycle can be used for different subjects – for instance processes in biology and chemistry, and literary and religious source texts in English and RE – to introduce different curricular topics.

When using the Translanguaging Cycle it is important to consider:

  • How encouraging pupils to process texts in the languages they know can enable them to access and engage with age and cognitively appropriate content. This is especially important when they are new to English and at the early stages of language acquisition and still developing their English language skills.
  • The need to balance the use of pupils’ languages and of English since learners do also need to develop their English language skills.

More translanguaging ideas can be found on The Bell Foundation’s translanguaging webpages and in the Translanguaging Guide (Celic & Seltzer, 2012).

Effective implementation of multilingual pedagogies presupposes deliberate planning of when and how pupils can deploy their language repertoires to facilitate and accelerate learning.

This in turn requires a solid understanding of how home languages can be best used in the classroom to support learning. CPD on the best available evidence regarding the benefits of the continued use of first languages, tackling misconceptions (such as insistence on learners only speaking English), and using multilingual strategies can equip and enable teachers and teaching assistants to use multilingual pedagogies to support pupils’ learning.


Parents, families, and the community

As significant learning and identity development takes place at home or within the local community, it is important to work closely and supportively with parents, carers, and community organisations to maximise the integration and impact of home, school, and community learning. To do so, schools could:

  • Offer workshops for plurilingual learners’ parents and carers about the importance of first language maintenance, addressing misconceptions about the use of home languages and sharing effective strategies. This is important since some parents might feel they cannot help if their command of the English language does not allow them to do so. Parents and community organisations could take a leading role in organising and running these events.
  • Provide translated information and guidance for parents and carers about how to support children’s learning at home.
  • Encourage parents to use their first languages. For example, parents could discuss answers to questions with their child.
  • Promote shared reading, viewing, and listening in home languages as a way to support language and literacy development and maintenance.

Workshops and guidance for parents aiming to support their children with their school work should be consistent with and supportive of the whole-school approach to linguistic diversity and inclusion. In this respect, schools could:

In addition to mainstream school, many plurilingual pupils also attend supplementary schools. These schools offer language and curricular support as well as faith and cultural learning which can promote the development and maintenance of community languages and provide strong community bonds, which are essential for learners’ wellbeing and sense of identity.

Mainstream schools can benefit greatly from working with supplementary schools not just to support plurilingual learners’ learning, but also to enhance that of first language English speakers who may have had limited contact with different cultures and communities. Mainstream and supplementary schools could:

  • Share and pool curriculum resources, services and/or facilities.
  • Organise joint cultural events for students, parents, and staff.
  • Arrange CPD that can be mutually beneficial for both school types – for example, supplementary school staff could be invited to lead CPD sessions about the education system in their country to raise awareness of the lived experiences of a group of pupils who share a common national or linguistic background.


Multilingual and multicultural digital encounters

Learners inhabit virtual worlds and lead digital lives using their full linguistic repertoires. They interact with other young people through websites and apps and communicate with their friends and relatives who live far away using social media applications such as WhatsApp, thus maintaining and further developing both their digital and plurilingual competence.

Schools can leverage pupils’ digital literacy skills and connections by setting up curriculum-relevant projects which require connecting with family members or other members of the community living abroad and running remote online sessions.

For instance, teach English-speaking peers how to say words or phrases in their language in order to find out more about their culture, history, traditions, environmental initiatives and practices, food, and other resources. Such encounters would enable first-language English pupils to broaden their cultural awareness, and plurilingual pupils could act as linguistic brokers between their school and the remote participants.


Conclusion

The implementation of multilingual pedagogies in English schools is advantageous not just for pupils who use EAL, but also for first language English pupils and the school community as a whole. It is consistent with DEI policies and effectively supports schools in becoming environments that promote unity in diversity, where every child can be who they are, thrive and develop their potential.

  • Kamil Trzebiatowski is digital resource developer and Silvana Richardson is strategic education advisor at The Bell Foundation, a charity working to overcome exclusion through language education. Visit www.bell-foundation.org.uk


Further information & resources

  • Baker & Wright: Foundations of bilingual education and bilingualism, Multilingual Matters, 2017.
  • Bell Foundation: Translanguaging resources: https://bit.ly/39z4bxI
  • Bialystok, Craik, & Luk: Bilingualism: Consequences for mind and brain, Trends in Cognitive Science (16), 2012.
  • Celic & Seltzer: Translanguaging: A CUNY-NYSIEB guide for educators, 2012: https://bit.ly/3xzPdUe
  • Cenoz & Gorter: Teaching English through pedagogical translanguaging, World Englishes (39, 2), 2011.
  • Cope & Kalantzis: Multiliteracies: Literacy learning and the design of social future, Routledge, 2000.
  • Crisfield: Practical strategies for a linguistically inclusive classroom, The Bell Foundation (YouTube video), March 2022: https://bit.ly/3tq6wVv
  • DfE: Academic year 2021/22: Schools, pupils and their characteristics, June 2022.
  • Garcia & Wei: Translanguaging: Language, bilingualism and education, PalgraveMacMillan, 2014.
  • Khan Academy: www.khanacademy.org
  • Thomas & Collier: A national study of school effectiveness for language minority students' long-term academic achievement, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, Washington, DC, 2002.


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