Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Being and Becoming Language Learners

The March Language Arts includes an article by Tasha Tropp Laman and Katie Van Sluys that explores how “children in multilingual, multiage classrooms participate in and transform the writing workshops” (265). In “Being and Becoming: Multilingual Writers’ Practices,” Laman and Van Sluys describe two multiage classrooms where students participate in daily writing workshop activities, typically beginning with a mini-lesson and then allowing time for students to read, write, and collaborate while teachers met with individual writers and small groups.

Using examples from students’ writer’s notebooks and other student publications, the article demonstrates how “multilingual students in both classrooms transformed their learning communities and opened up new possibilities for all children” (272). What made the practices successful was the fact that “All students were positioned as language learners” in the two classrooms:

Multilingual students explored connections, differences, and insights into their understandings of their first language(s) and those they were learning. Ms. Brice and Ms. Roberts [the two teachers] intentionally established curricular structures that repositioned literacy learning in general and writing in particular as collective and social acts. English-dominant peers also began to study and compare English with other languages . . . . This work was not spontaneous. Multilingual students shared their linguistic knowledge with peers as they leaned into one another’s notebooks during writing time, read their writing aloud during share time, and publicly displayed their writing during celebrations. These collective and collaborative structures repositioned first language(s) as significant and vital literacy resources. (273)
How can teachers find activities that situate students as language authorities? Students can take on the role naturally in classrooms where students are encouraged to collaborate and share their writing. Students in the two classrooms highlighted in the article were encouraged to choose the language (or languages) that they felt comfortable using, to use texts as models and springboards, and to investigate how different languages work. As they collaborated, students—whether new to English or not—all worked as language learners. And when everyone in the classroom is a language learner, great things happen!

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