Jane Fox, Project Leader, ACS Egham International School
How can we best support bilingual and plurilingual learners?
Over the last 40 years, the ACS International Schools’ Native Language Enrichment programme (NLE) has grown. At its start, it provided native language classes for a small number of Swedish students attending ACS Cobham International School. At this time, the school’s education model was monolingual, serving U.S. nationals abroad who were planning to return to United States.
Since then ACS student demographic has changed significantly. We have welcomed increasing numbers of bilingual and plurilingual international students and have opened additional schools with an expanded approach to language learning. A native language enrichment programme offering has been developed at each of the four campuses.
When this CIM project began two years ago, its objective was to document and understand the unique structures of the NLE programmes at each of our fours campuses as a prerequisite to enhancing the effectiveness of the overall programme.
The project originally addressed the question ‘How does the provision of mother tongue support by ACS International Schools compare to best practice?” To answer the question it was necessary to:
- Document and understand the structure of the NLE programme offering at each of our four campuses;
- Build an understanding of the current research and best practice describing the conditions necessary in a school for bilingual and plurilingual students to reach their potential;
- Distil principles of best practice in the provision of home language development and maintenance;
- Examine the documented discourse surrounding home language;
- Share the learning from this project with stakeholders, especially those in decision making roles; and
- Contribute to ongoing discussions about the school’s language philosophy and language learning curricula by sharing the learning emanating from the project.
An unstated project objective was to gain a statistical overview of the extent of NLE service across campuses individually and collectively.
To answer the question and meet the project objectives a project team was formed. Team members included individuals with responsibility for the NLE programme at their campus, and therefore the team was always a maximum of four people, with others providing input as needed.
To gain a sense of the structure of the programme across all four ACS schools an audit was undertaken to capture the following information: general Admissions information; structure of the NLE programme; NLE curriculum information; student demographics; tutor demographics; parent involvement and/or partnership; NLE Policy and documentation; cost of the programme; and programme coordination information.
The project commissioned a literature review to gain an overview of current research evidence and key issues relevant to bilingual and plurilingual learners and the conditions under which these students may develop their full academic potential.2 The findings from the literature review raised important questions about the role of plurilingualism in international school education and ways we can best support our plurilingual learners.
What did we learn?
The literature review presented evidence suggesting that bilingual and multilingual students perform better across the curriculum. Exposure to two languages provides broader linguistic experiences and access to a wider range of thinking modes. Switching between the two languages exercises flexibility in thinking, and the conscious or subconscious comparison of two languages, resolving interference between languages, and using the knowledge of one language to advance the other. This results in a high level of metalinguistic skills.
The literature review suggested that careful consideration of education priorities is fundamental to framing the role of plurilingualism in international education and learning, and that this requires the participation of school policy makers, school leaders, practitioners, learners and parents. Research evidence suggests that bilingualism is a source of cognitive advantage so significant for one’s quality of life that it is not only an educational imperative to promote it, but also a moral responsibility.
The loss of home language is often presented as a natural language shift. Language loss is a loss for all who aim to achieve:
- Better attainment across the curriculum
- A better equipped workforce for a globalised world
- Better self esteem at the individual level, and even
- Longer dementia-free lives
The literature review challenged ACS to reconsider how the school is utilizing and supporting bilingualism throughout the curriculum and school life. To better understand how we may do this a new research question has been defined. The new question asks, ‘What components of Blended Learning (including the flipped classroom model) can be used to improve student learning outcomes in the NLE programme at ACS?’
This project aims to produce an inventory of developed and evaluated blended teaching and learning approaches appropriate to the enrichment of home language for use as a resource for tutors and tutor training in the NLE programme and any future forms of mother tongue provision at ACS.