two iclose up images of eye and ear with the text - Being seen and heard as an English Language Learner

Being Seen and Understood as an English Language Learner

Did you ever think you would make a website to show your work? She shakes her head in disbelief – looking at her newly created online Learning Portfolio.

It’s been a year packed with challenges for my adult English Language Learners.

Most have lacked confidence in their computer skills, and their capacity to improve.

Many have felt clue-less about their mobile phone, its many functions and pre-set options.

  • Phones that were either handed down to them by their adult children, or quickly set up and passed back to them in a phone shop.

I wanted to do something about this:

  • I wanted them to have a sense of agency and control – with computers and their mobile devices;
  • I wanted them to share their interests and ideas using a variety of digital tools;
  • I wanted them to develop their online organisational skills (through Google Drive);
  • I wanted them to develop practical skills relating to digital privacy and security online;
  • And I wanted them to have real audiences for their work.

So across our various topics this half year, we’ve created video reports (using Adobe Spark) and audio interviews (using their Phone recorders).

We’ve organised and shared our work via Google Drive, and created our own Learning Portfolios (using Google sites).

And we’ve held Student Showcases at the end of each term. These events have been absolutely crucial to the success of my class program.

What do our Student Showcases involve?

Finding real audiences for my students’ work has been a bit of a challenge.

Many of my teaching colleagues aren’t that comfortable online or with tech generally so it limits our options to connect with classes locally.

And most of my online PLN are primary/elementary and secondary teachers so they’re not the right level for us.

What has worked though – big time – is inviting Managers from our English Language Department to visit us.

At each showcase, we share what we’ve been working on and what we’ve achieved.

Leading up to the day, we’re all so excited and nervous. Many students practise their speeches over and over until they can remember them off-by-heart, and together we polish the work they want to share.

On Showcase Day, you can just about hear a pin-drop as the managers arrive in our class – all eyes fixed on them in anticipation.

Students are organised in groups. One person introduces the group and explains what they’ve been working on this term.

Each student then shares one piece of work via their Learning Portfolio, before they conclude with thanks and a request for feedback (about their work).

Importantly, I brief the Managers beforehand on what we’ve been working on and the Showcase set up. I also ask them to:

  • quiz the students about their work;
  • to converse with them;
  • to provide feedback about what they’ve produced.

This approach makes for a much more focused and meaningful chat. And it lifts students like nothing else I’ve seen. Here’s why.

How do the Managers Engage with the Students?

At our most recent showcase, I stood back and observed the process.

Often astounded, often smiling as the fiercely proud teacher – here’s what I saw.

The managers spoke to them like real people – not in functional English type speak. They asked them tough, challenging questions about:

  • the learning process involved in creating their various stories;
  • the creative process, and the choices they had made about content, music, colors and fonts;
  • how their teacher had instructed them, and how their class was organised;
  • the challenges they faced and overcame along the way;
  • the political and social issues involved in their stories;
  • the organisational structures of their stories, along with the quality of their speaking skills.

The students were being seen and valued as English Language Learners or as people more generally.

They were seen as capable of engaging in a more sophisticated type of conversation NOT the dumbed-down chat that can often occur in English Language classes.

  • As one student said, ‘I felt knowledgeable.’

They saw that their work, their ideas, their creative choices mattered; that they had something of worth to offer.

They felt like the managers genuinely cared about their work and them.

  • the friendliness, the warmth, the smiles were often commented on by students

They all crowded around devouring the feedback the managers wrote for them. Then coming up to me afterward, big grins on their faces, holding up their books:

  • Look what …. wrote about my video/interview/story.

To the surprise of many of my students, one manager told them that their computer skills were higher than many teachers.

And Me….

I saw my students step it up to another level. They repeatedly met the challenges posed in the conversations, and then took it even further.

I was pleasantly surprised at their capacity to explain what, how, and why we do – what we do – in our classroom.

  • It illustrated to me the importance of us as teachers – ramping up our level of conversations (and questions posed within such) with students.

I saw their dedication, their determination, and their fierce levels of concentration.

I saw how much these Showcase conversations meant to them – and their sense of self-worth.

Common responses in their written reflections were:

  • they said I was clear;
  • they said they understood me;
  • they said my pronunciation was good.

For adult English Language Learners, who mostly speak their first language outside the classroom – such comments are especially significant.

Being seen and understood in English is a crucial part of moving forward in the world – on so many levels.

I’ll take it a step further. Being seen and understood not only through what you create but in challenging conversations – takes it to another level of achievement.

Dream Big: Being seen and understood as an English Language Learner
This is Why I Dream Big

As I stood watching, smiling, I noticed two students laughing and gesturing towards me.

I caught their attention, wondering what was going on.

They pointed to my obviously big smile.

Yep I was obviously proud and happy.

Dreaming big along with challenging and supporting my students to step it up – is paying off.

And having a real-world audience that provides considered feedback; and engages in sophisticated conversations with my students is critical:

  • in terms of the learning process; and
  • the ongoing development, drive, and positive sense of self – for my adult English Language learners.

Listen to my Podcast

I host and produce Pushing The Edge with Greg Curran, in which I talk to gutsy educators and community-leaders about social justice in education and life. Have a listen in Apple Podcasts or your favourite podcast app.Pushing the edge 800x800