Search This Blog

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Multilingual Aria

Teaching in a multi-cultural-lingual-tasking district and community, I am always challenged to find the Aria within.

Aria:  The term 'aria' was frequently used in the 17th and 18th centuries for instrumental music used for dancing or variation, and modeled on vocal music.

The melody that my students create, is often a combination of a variety of language and dialect, past experiences that vary wildly, and learning styles and attention spans that are as individual as the students themselves.

As I read this week's articles, I am struck by just how many pieces we, as teachers, need to conduct and weave together to create a single symphony.

In the Collier article, we are given 7 guidelines for teaching multi-lingual learners.  We discuss the merits of bilingual teaching, single-language teaching, and the blend of the two.  We are asked to consider how "caregivers" are speaking to our students, and reminded not to teach to their deficiencies, but rather their strengths.  We are encouraged not to challenge the validity of their first-language, while empowering their code-switching as a valuable learning technique.  Ultimately we are asked to build balanced literacy based on their first-language, while developing listening, speaking, reading, and writing in academic English simultaneously.

Synthesizing all of the methods, and practices, with the varying student abilities, begins to seem like conducting an orchestra to find one sound.  The question becomes, how to respect the student, and all of their individual and unique characteristics, and maintain a "one sound" that is meaningful and valuable.  Sarah Hudelson offers us insight on page 233, "the goal of reading and writing is to enable students to learn about and interpret the world and reflect upon themselves in relation to people and events around explain, analyze, argue about and act upon the world.  If as ELL teachers, we can start a student down this road, and inspire them to find their place in this literate world, we have done a service we can be proud of, because the focus is where it should be, on the student.

The Rodriguez article took me into an entirely different kind of Aria, a sad, sad, operatic tragedy, where the loss of "home" is replaced by a spot in a new existence.  This provides different opportunities for the student, but at what cost?  We are introduced to our young hero of the song, as he finds himself dazed, diffident, and afraid, at the prospect of his parochial classroom forcing him into silence and dismay.  As the calming assurance that I belong in public has finally taken hold (36) Ricardo has finally morphed into Rich-heard.  But is this a Pyrric victory, coming at the loss of "my father, who in Spanish was quickly effusive, but has now retired into silence?"(paraphrased 37)  The inevitable slide into this new reality is the result of the family, giving up their private individuality, for a public identity, because "HOW CAN YOU QUESTION THE CHURCH'S AUTHORITY?" (35)
This second article had me channeling Delpit, and my own ideas about who gets to decide what success means.  If our hero and his family have assimilated to the point of "losing their home" have we simply silenced an important dialogue rather than respecting the individual?  Perhaps if we had been more respectful and inclusive this tragedy could have turned out comedy instead.

Happiness is your truth.


  1. Brian,

    You bring this point to the table. "Ultimately we are asked to build balanced literacy based on their first-language, while developing listening, speaking, reading, and writing in academic English simultaneously." I think that for the majority of our students in the district, this is a perfect example. A student who read "La Linea" a few weeks ago was reading the book in Spanish and English. Although the student could read Spanish and progressing towards reading English. The student was able to comprehend in Spanish, read the English version, and be able to talk about it in Spanish. Although, we assess the student in English- which is mandatory, we are helping him to develop his understanding through these materials. I also have a Spanish to English Dictionary which allows the student to understand the math concepts (As I look over the dictionary, many of the words in Spanish are quite similar in English). I think that it really enables students to develop the skills in both languages. I think this validates "teaching to the strengths" that Collier guides us through.

  2. Brian,

    While I agree that it is incredibly sad that Richard and his family lost a sense of closeness in the way they had to transition from Spanish-speaking to English, I don't know if I would agree completely that they have lost their home. I do think we have silenced an important dialogue, but doesn't that ultimately lead Rodriguez to writing his "Aria?" Although his parents probably would have rather kept the sense of closeness and ability to use their native language within the home, we also have to consider the fact that they ultimately wanted their children to be successful in the country they were trying to become a part of. At the time, if the authorities that they trusted told them it would be beneficial to stop using Spanish even at home, they would do it to allow their children to become successful in their new world. While I may not agree with the process, I do think it is important to consider their viewpoint, and their (lack of) other options at the time. I think we are making great strides in teaching English as a Second Language and continuing to respect and encourage the use of native languages, but we have to remember that education is always changing - because we view multilingual education a certain way in 2014, it was viewed very differently ten, twenty, thirty years ago.

    I also like how you connect the meaning of the word "aria" throughout your post....I thought it was a beautiful title for Rodriguez's piece, and tried to use my own interpretation of it as well :)

  3. Brian, I was also saddened by the Aria article. As Kristina said I also think that we are making strides in teaching English as a Second Language but I also think that we are still undervaluing the at home language. At the school I worked at in NB many of the students and parents spoke different languages at home, it was not until our 7th year that we put together a Spanish reading group. We had a language class special once a week (via Rosetta stone and no formal instruction), what are you supposed to learn in a once a week class? I just thought this was not enough for an area with such diverse backgrounds.