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It’s all in the language: PO sees no barriers, only diversity

August 15, 2017

Categories: Blog

Published: August 15, 2017

California is one of 27 states that offers the Seal of Biliteracy Award for high school graduates who can speak two languages proficiently. And at Pacific Oaks, multilingualism is widely embraced.

Elizabeth Chamberlain, the Associate Dean of the School of Education, discusses how she has helped children whose native tongue wasn’t English and how other teachers can also be successful in doing so—whether they’re bilingual or not.

Elizabeth Chamberlain

For seven years, Chamberlain taught in a bilingual classroom at the third-grade level. While students’ language fluency fluctuated between beginner to advanced in Spanish, English, or both, the goal of the classes was for students to be fluent in both Spanish and English. Chamberlain was also trained in English language learner development, which is a requirement in the state of California.

“I really tried to create a classroom where children felt comfortable exploring, taking risks, and not feeling ashamed or embarrassed that they might not know something. We need to prepare our children to work in a global society no matter where they’re being educated in America because they will be in a global world. I think it’s going to be rare in the future to live in a homogeneous society. Bilingualism is beneficial for finding a job now, so I can definitely see that being the case in the future.”

For some students that Chamberlain worked with, it was their first time in America and English was not their primary language.

“Knowing how to help them to build those language skills in English is really critical,” Chamberlain says. “Teachers assess where the students’ language levels are and help them to get to where they need to be by the end of the year through different skills, strategies, and some immersion.”

Three techniques she used to help them improve on their English were:

  1. Use a sizeable amount of oral presentations and pictures with words to get students used to associating the objects with the English spelling of the word.
  2. Create an inclusive environment. Inclusion is often associated with disabilities, but being inclusive should also relate to culture and language.
  3. Pair children who are more fluent in English with those who are not.

Not being bilingual didn’t stop Chamberlain from her workflow. She took her own partnering advice and worked with a bilingual aide, who would assist in the students’ native language while Chamberlain focused on English.

“In America, we’re doing a disservice to ourselves not teaching at least Spanish and English from pre-K to college,” Chamberlain says. “I feel like that should be standard for everybody no matter what school you go to. At the time and even now, I feel limited because I wasn’t fluent in Spanish.”

California joined two others—Hawaii and New Mexico—as the third state without a white plurality. But the United States overall does not have an official language, regardless of what language may be most popular across all 50 states.

In the case of the school that Chamberlain taught, the goal was for students to have a working knowledge (if not complete fluency) in English by fifth grade, before moving onto middle school, where there would be even more immersion into the English language and higher expectations in lesson plans.

At Pacific Oaks, the core value of multicultural sensitivity is integrated throughout all of the coursework. According to Chamberlain, “It’s also who our faculty are, who our adjuncts are.”

“This is core to their values,” Chamberlain says. “This is why they are here. That value of multicultural competency is a lifelong aspiration. Our experiences are more than just taking a class or visiting a country. It’s part of a lifelong cultivation of learning about other people, valuing other people, and valuing differences.

“Instead of multiculturalism being an ancillary part of our identity as a college, it is really integrated into who we are and who we’re expected to be in all departments as a culture and as a whole. And this is what we want our teachers to impart on their students in the classroom as well.”

Categories: Blog

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