Embracing the complex
Effective language teaching in a multi-cultural international school is a complex undertaking. By embracing this complexity, the International School of Paris aims to ‘go beyond bilingual’ as Primary Principal, Jason Taylor, reports.
Educating for complexity
At ISP there is a clear link between the school’s Vision and Mission. The Vision Statement, Educating for Complexity supports us with our Mission of Preparing students to engage with and succeed in a complex world. So far as the learning of language is concerned, two important guiding statements follow:
We promote effective communication, the development of identity and the appreciation of other cultures through the learning of languages.
We explore and celebrate differences and similarities to create an inclusive culture that can engage globally.
Taking these statements as our starting points, we embrace the idea of complexity, adopt Paris as our classroom and use our unique context to provide opportunities for our students, staff and parents to go authentically Beyond Bilingual.
ISP has over 700 students from more than 60 nationalities, with over 35 mother tongues. Unsurprisingly, many of them are bilingual or multilingual, with 5% speaking five languages. This rich resource enables us to embed language learning, entwined with the exploration and celebration of cultural identity, in our practice.
Why go beyond bilingual?
The aim of going ‘Beyond Bilingual’ is to create a challenging and motivating multilingual environment in which the principal language of instruction is English. We view language as a tool for making meaning in the world. We believe that every student has an individual and cultural set of experiences, skills and interests, which we consider in the teaching and learning process. For ISP, multilingualism and the development of critical literacy are important factors in fostering international-mindedness through the promotion of cultural identity, intercultural awareness and global citizenship.
All teachers of language
For us, all teachers are language teachers as the use of language transcends curriculum areas. Through the IB language programmes, we aim to develop confident, curious, highly proficient and enthusiastic readers, writers, viewers, presenters, speakers and listeners. We teach language meaningfully and in context. These contexts vary, but often involve real-life scenarios, native speakers, the local area and a wide variety of text types. We advocate language learning through inquiry, allowing students to make connections with context, to explore and investigate. The learning of any language is developmental by nature, building constructively on what each individual student already knows to help move them forward.
Host and mother tongue languages
Using the cultural experiences provided by our host country and community to enhance French language learning throughout the curriculum is a deep commitment. That each student should have the opportunity to maintain and develop their mother tongue(s) is equally important to us. The acquisition of additional languages allows students to further reflect upon and explore different cultural perspectives.
Admissions and student transition
The rolling nature of admissions to ISP can also add a layer of complexity to student transition, but is something we embrace as a dynamic, multi-layered part of our community. The majority of our approximately 230 new students each year arrive in September, but our ongoing admissions process means we also have a significant number of mid-year joiners. We also welcome many students with little or no prior exposure to English on arrival. Both the Primary and Secondary School ensure intense immersion in English as the initial experience for these students, providing them with support and tools to begin making connections with their peers and teachers. This may include English support in individual sessions or small groups as well as inclusion in the mainstream classroom. A team of trained professionals work in our English as an Additional Language (EAL) department and support the children until they have acquired the skills to function independently in English across the curriculum.
The importance of mother tongue learning
In parallel with the support for English language acquisition, we emphasise the importance of mother tongue development. Research shows that a sound and secure basis in a first language supports the acquisition of others. In the Primary School, our mother-tongue French speakers receive language instruction as part of the curriculum, while speakers of other languages have the opportunity to maintain their mother tongue in sessions after the school day. In the Secondary School, mother tongue is maintained through small group or individual mother-tongue lessons (some online) as part of the MYP curriculum, enrichment classes and/or extra-curricular activities. The demographics of these language groups evolve annually based on the interest and numbers of children speaking the language, specifically addressing the needs of the community, which we embrace as we ‘go beyond bilingual’.
Language and cultural identity
We give everyone in our community, young and old, opportunities to celebrate their language and cultural identity. During “Language Week” students and parents collaborate in sharing their language and culture with the class. This powerful initiative helps clusters of parents who speak the same home language to forge connections and present collectively within the school. Additionally, all Primary School grades from Nursery to Grade 5 start the year with the transdisciplinary theme: Who we are. This enables the students, both returning and new, to explore their identity and create significantly deep relationships with their peers from the start of the new school year.
Complexity? Embrace it!
At ISP, we constantly look for ways to weave the celebration of language and cultures into the school experience to make all members of the community feel included, valued and connected. In celebrating the complex linguistic reality of our community, we all become closer, and in doing so, we continue to go Beyond Bilingual.
Jason Taylor is the Primary School Principal at the International School of Paris
Beyond Bilingual Webinar, Wednesday March 17th, 2021: please join us!
We know we are not alone in facing complex linguistic issues in planning effective language programmes at an international school. If you want to learn more about how we go Beyond Bilingual, tune in to listen to our webinar ‘Beyond bilingual – communication and language learning in the IB’, where our panel will discuss this topic in more detail. The live webinar will take place on March 17th at 6pm (CET), and a recording will be sent to everyone who registers.
Register for and view our other webinars at www.isparis.edu/webinars.
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All images kindly provided by ISParis